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Chapter 9 - Greening the Government

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Earth Day 2000

Greening the Government

As the country's largest energy user, and its largest consumer of paper and other products, the United States government has a special responsibility to act in an environmentally responsible manner. The government not only leads by example; its enormous purchasing power helps create new markets for environmentally preferable products, making them more affordable for everyone.

For President Clinton, this responsibility begins at home: the White House today is a model of energy efficiency and careful environmental stewardship. The President has helped spread this ethic throughout the government. Through a series of executive actions, he has directed all federal agencies to improve their environmental performance, from using recycled paper to curbing their use of energy and toxic chemicals.

Apart from their enormous environmental benefits, these measures are spurring new growth and jobs, and saving federal taxpayers millions of dollars each year in energy and other costs.

The Greening of the White House

On Earth Day 1993, President Clinton launched a new initiative to dramatically improve the energy and Greening of the White House environmental performance of the White House complex with steps that can be taken at any home. Measures implemented include: replacement of thousands of light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescents; installation of hundreds of weather-tight windows; heating and air conditioning upgrades; an 80 percent reduction in pesticide use; installation of a water-conserving sprinkler system; and the composting of paper and trimmings from the White House grounds for use as fertilizer.

A Greening of the White House status report issued last year found that these steps are saving $300,000 a year and reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 845 metric tons — the equivalent of taking more than 600 cars off the road. Additional improvements are underway.

Conserving Energy and Taxpayer Dollars

As the nation's single largest energy user, the federal government spends roughly $8 billion a year to power its vehicles, buildings and other facilities. Through the Federal Energy Management Program, the Administration has reduced energy use in federal buildings by more than 12 percent, cutting the government's energy bill by almost $600 million a year.

Last year, President Clinton issued an Executive Order to produce far greater savings. The Order directs agencies to reduce energy use in buildings 35 percent by 2010, and to expand their use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Meeting this goal will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tons — the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road — and save taxpayers over $750 million a year. It also will expand markets for renewable technologies, reduce air pollution, and serve as a powerful example to businesses and consumers who can reap substantial benefits from energy improvements.

Expanding Use of Recycled Products

The federal government purchases more than 20 billion sheets of copier paper every year. In 1994, only 12 percent of the paper used by the federal government contained any recycled fiber.

Through two Executive Orders, the President directed federal agencies to gradually increase their use of recycled-content paper. Last year, 98 percent of the copier paper purchased by federal agencies contained a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer fiber. This dramatic improvement is saving up to half a million trees a year, reducing air and water pollution, and curbing emissions that contribute to global warming.

The President also directed agencies to purchase a wide range of other recycled products — such as insulation, carpeting, motor oil, and retread tires — and encouraged them to purchase other environmentally preferable products whenever possible. Federal purchases of recycled products grew from $240 million in 1992 to $350 million in 1997.

Reducing Toxic Releases

Many federal agencies use hazardous chemicals, primarily solvents, in maintaining their facilities and equipment. On Earth Day 1993, the President issued an Executive Order requiring agencies to report and to dramatically reduce their releases of toxic chemicals. Specifically, he mandated a 50 percent reduction in toxic chemical releases in five years. The agencies, using a variety of pollution prevention strategies, met the goal in just two years. Some of the most dramatic reductions were achieved at the Department of Defense, which uses large quantities of hazardous chemicals to repair and maintain ships, aircraft, and other military equipment.

Department of Defense Toxic Releases Department of Defense Pesticide Use
Department of Defense Hazardous Waste Disposal Department of Defense Solid Waste Disposal
Source: U.S. Department of Defense

San Pedro, California
An Unlikely Haven for the Palos Verdes Blue

Photo: Buterfly
Photo by Army Lt. Colonel Zia Mehr
Scientists declared the Palos Verdes blue butterfly extinct in 1982. But more than a decade later, a single PV blue made a surprise appearance at a military refueling station in San Pedro, California. Now the delicate species is on its way to recovery, with help from some unusual allies: former gang members, and the Department of Defense.

The industrial-looking Defense Fuel Support Point may seem an unlikely haven for butterflies, but the 320-acre depot contains some of the best remaining habitat for the Palos Verdes blue. When a UCLA biologist doing research at the depot stumbled across the survivor, the university teamed up with the Defense Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service to help bring the species back.

So far, volunteers have put in more than 5,000 hours restoring the butterflies' coastal sage scrub habitat, and helping raise its population from 400 to 1,000.

The effort to save the PV blue also is creating a brighter future for some of the volunteers — a contingent of inner-city kids working with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. "I'm saving them from extinction," said former gang member Arthur Bonner, "and they're saving me from the street."

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CEQ Earth Day 2000 Report

History of Earth Day

Preserving America's Natural Treasures

Clean Air, Safe Water, Healthy Communities

Meeting the Challenge of Global Warming

Chapter 4 - Protecting Our Precious Wildlife

Building Sustainable Communities

Safeguarding Our Oceans and Coasts

Protecting the Global Environment

Growing Green Business

Greening the Government

Enforcing Our Nation's Environmental Laws

The Challenges Ahead

Ten Communities: Profiles in Environmental Progress

Environmental Actions by President Clinton and Vice President Gore