Federal agencies really get the “green” light

March 28, 2007
Executive Order creates opportunities for smart businesses, according to Lynn Bergeson, in April's Compliance Advisor column.

President Bush signed Executive Order 13423, “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” on January 24. (Click here to see an official news release.)

The order sends a strong signal that federal agencies are committed to conducting their environmental, energy-related, and transportation activities in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner. Given the federal government’s purchasing power and influence in setting the “tone at the top,” the order undoubtedly will open new markets and opportunities for vendors whose products measure up to its standards.

What is an executive order?

An executive order is a declaration issued by the President (or other chief of state, like a governor) that has the force of law. Because they are “orders” issued by the Executive Branch, they don’t need Congressional approval. They are often based on pre-existing laws or statutory authority. Many Presidents, including Mr. Bush, use them to reaffirm Administration policies, articulate national goals in targeted areas, or announce programs to achieve a policy or goal.

Executive orders have been used to great advantage in the environmental area and, over the years, many have emphasized some aspect of environmental protection. Executive Order 13423 is such an example and is intended to mandate that federal agencies reduce oil consumption, use greater amounts of alternative fuels and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Executive Order 13423’s goals

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush announced his plan to reduce U.S. gasoline usage by 20% in the next 10 years. According to the Executive Order 13423 fact sheet, to help meet the “twenty in ten” goal, the federal government will reduce oil use and improve environmental and energy performance. (Click here to see more information.)

The order directs federal agencies to:

  • Reduce oil consumption in fleet vehicles. Federal agencies meeting certain conditions should cut their fleet’s petroleum consumption by 2% annually through 2015. In addition, they must purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles when commercially available.
  • Increase use of renewable and alternative fuels. Federal agencies meeting certain conditions must raise their alternative fuel consumption by at least 10% annually.
  • Use more new renewable power. At least 50% of agencies’ current renewable energy purchase requirement must come from new renewable sources, such as solar, wind, biomass, landfill gas, ocean (including tidal, wave, current, and thermal), geothermal, municipal solid waste, or new hydroelectric generation capacity achieved from increased efficiency or additions of new capacity at an existing hydroelectric project.
  • Decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Federal agencies must improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on energy intensity — how much energy is used per square foot of building space — by 3% annually or 30% by 2015, relative to the agency’s energy use in fiscal year 2003. This new goal is 50% stronger than the goal called for in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
  • Acquire environmentally sound products. Federal agencies must increase their purchase of environmentally sound products, including biobased, environmentally preferable, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and recycled-content products, and ensure the development of high performance buildings that are healthier and consume less energy.

Executive Order 13423 revokes the following executive orders:

  • 13101 of September 14, 1998: Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition;
  • 13123 of June 3, 1999: Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Management;
  • 13134 of August 12, 1999, as amended: Developing and Promoting Biobased Products and Bioenergy;
  • 13148 of April 21, 2000: Greening the Government Through Leadership in Environmental Management; and
  • 13149 of April 21, 2000: Greening the Government Through Federal Fleet and Transportation Efficiency.

Going green

The federal government has enormous purchasing power. Its purchasing preferences significantly stimulate market development and, by implication, trigger market demise. The Executive Order telegraphs, in many different ways, that the federal government is going green. Federal agencies will use less water, depend less on conventional fossil fuels, use less conventional chemicals thought to present risks and rely more on renewable energy sources. These preferences will stimulate new markets, offer opportunities for green businesses and encourage substitution and reformulation in existing products. This will have far reaching ripple effects throughout the economy. Smart businesses will seize the opportunity to be more sustainable and, quite possibly, more successful as a result.

Lynn Bergeson, regulatory editor, is the managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on chemical industry issues. Contact her at [email protected]. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author. This column is not intended to provide, nor should be construed as, legal advice.

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