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Biden to Direct U.S. Government to Reach Net-Zero by 2050 (1)

Dec. 8, 2021, 8:03 PM

President Joe Biden is ordering the federal government to dramatically shrink its carbon footprint, with a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across all of its operations by mid-century.

In an executive order being signed Wednesday, Biden is putting the federal government’s scale and purchasing power behind the mission, by directing agencies to spend billions on electric cars, clean power and upgraded buildings to reach the target.

The order will direct federal agencies to buy only zero-emission vehicles by 2035 and update federal buildings so they can reach net-zero emissions by 2045. The U.S. government will also launch a “buy-clean” initiative for low-carbon materials and aim to buy products without “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, the White House said in a fact sheet.

The move builds on previous steps Biden has taken to leverage the federal government’s purchasing power in the fight against climate change. And it supplements the president’s other climate goals, including an ambition to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035.

Under Biden’s directive, the federal government would slash its greenhouse gas emissions 65% by 2035. If the U.S. hits Biden’s net-zero emissions target by 2050, it would effectively be carbon neutral -- with any greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere fully offset by carbon reductions.

“By transforming how the federal government builds, buys and manages its assets and operations, the federal government will support the growth of America’s clean energy and clean technology industries,” the White House said in the fact sheet. This will also accelerate “America’s progress toward achieving a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035.”

The order is Biden’s latest move to leverage the federal government’s wallet to achieve his policy goals. Biden last week directed federal contracting officials to increase the share of dollars spent at Black- and Latino-owned businesses and earlier this year requested federal officials write a plan to buy electric vehicles as a way to encourage companies and consumers to invest in the technology. Environmental officials have yet to issue that plan, even though Biden’s order asked for it to be finished in April.

The effort was being cheered by environmentalists and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, said Biden was “putting the weight of the federal government behind reducing emissions,” and states should follow the administration’s lead.

“It will move us closer to reaching our shared climate goals and strengthen our clean energy sector,” Carper said in an emailed statement.

Biden’s buy-clean initiative dovetails with similar policies in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and other states. Advocates say the approach creates guaranteed demand for low- and zero-emission products, which is essential to driving growth.

“By focusing on the environmental impact of the materials procured by the federal government, this policy can help ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly, on materials that are manufactured in a cleaner, more efficient, environmentally-friendly manner,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, an environmental advocacy group.

The order does not include any new plans to shift the military’s fighter jets and tanks to sustainable and low-carbon fuels. The Pentagon is the federal government’s largest spender -- as well as its biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. Fuel produces the bulk of the Pentagon’s emissions.

The military has in the past struggled to find companies willing to produce enough alternative, low-carbon fuels to meet its needs around the world at a reasonable price, though Biden has separately laid out ambitions for sustainable aviation fuel to broadly replace traditional diesel-based supplies in jets by 2050. A 2012 Navy purchase of a $12 million biofuel mix, bought to test out on warships, drew the ire of Republican lawmakers who said at the time the test fuels were too expensive.

Federal spending on contracts totaled $593 billion in fiscal year 2021, down from the previous year’s record-high of $686 billion, according to Bloomberg Government’s federal contracting data. Agencies spent less on Covid-19, Middle East conflicts, and big-ticket hardware in 2021.

(Updates with details of initiative starting in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Paul Murphy.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Washington at jdlouhy1@bloomberg.net;
Courtney Rozen in Washington at crozen@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Bernie Kohn at bkohn@bloomberglaw.com;
Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Elizabeth Wasserman

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.