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Don’t forget to power down

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If all 16,000+ participants follow through with their pledge tonight, Power IT Down Day 2010 should be a huge success.

The initiative has nearly 500 supporters on Facebook, more than 100 Twitter followers and thousands who have signed up directly on the site.

The nationwide event encourages government and the private sector to shut down their computers, printers, monitors and other devices at the end of the work day to save energy. I was told that about two-thirds of those who have registered are from government agencies.

Citrix, HP, Intel and GTSI are sponsoring the initiative and will make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, representative of the money saved from Power IT Down Day. Last year’s donation totaled $45,000.

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Obama orders agencies to cut carbon footprints

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President Barack Obama issued an executive order this afternoon that requires agencies for the first time to measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama nixed an earlier idea, included in a draft executive order I reported on back in August, to set a governmentwide percentage target. Instead, each agency must recommend its own target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. It will be up to the heads of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to approve those targets.

Obama’s order also sets new requirements for cutting gas and water consumption, reducing landfill waste and purchasing products and services that meet environmental sustainability mandates.

We’ll have more on the order at www.federaltimes.com and in next week’s issue of Federal Times.

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New green goals coming

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The White House is developing an executive order that will set new goals for greening federal agencies, the administration’s top environmental policy adviser said this afternoon.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality is working with several agencies to draft the new presidential directive, council chairwoman Nancy Sutley said during an Earth Day event at the State Department. Sutley did not say when the order will be issued.

Existing laws and executive orders already require agencies to cut their energy and water consumption, increase their use of renewable energy, purchase environmentally preferable products and buy alternative fuel vehicles. Sutley said the new order will go even further.

The order will closely integrate federal greening actions and set new goals for energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, the purchase of fuel-efficient cars, water conservation and encourage overall sustainability.

For those of you who read your Federal Times closely each week, Sutley’s comments should come as no surprise. We reported this week that the administration was reviewing all existing goals to determine which ones should be updated, modified or otherwise revised to meet the Obama administration’s green government commitments.

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Direct hire authority for Energy in stimulus bill

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The Energy Department is about to get the power to hire people much more quickly. The final version of the stimulus bill includes a provision that allows the department to “recruit and directly appoint highly qualified individuals into the competitive service” when there’s a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need.

Excepted service and Senior Executive Service positions will be excluded from Energy’s direct hire authority. But aside from that, Energy will have a wide berth to decide when it needs to directly hire employees, and for what positions.

The stimulus bill can be downloaded from the House Appropriations Committee’s Web site, but be warned: The files are pretty big and a lot of people are downloading them now, so it may take some time to open them up.

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The light bulb dilemma: Save energy or save the planet?

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Sure, replacing those 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with lower-wattage compact fluorescent alternatives cuts energy use. But are they harming the environment in the process?

CFLs: Earth's friend or foe?

CFLs: Friend or foe?

That’s the question one insightful Pennsylvania resident posed to the Environmental Protection Agency recently. The spiral-shaped CFLs contain the toxic chemical mercury, which makes them dangerous to land, water and animals if not disposed of properly. “Should we be more concerned with energy saving or mercury hazards?” the woman asked.

CFLs contain a trace amount of mercury — five milligrams — which would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen, said Dan Gallo, EPA’s electronics recycling specialist, who responded to the question. It would take 100 bulbs to equal the amount of mercury contained in one of the old thermometers, Gallo said.

The benefits of lower energy consumption — CFLs use 75 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs — outweigh the environmental disadvantages, Gallo said.

Still, safely disposing of the bulbs is important — especially as federal agencies and other energy-conscious businesses and consumers begin buying more CFLs to reduce their electricity use. Several national retailers accept the bulbs for recycling, including Ace Hardware, IKEA and Home Depot. Most local landfills also accept the bulbs as part of their hazardous waste disposal programs.

In a pinch, EPA says you can place the fluorescent light bulb in two plastic bags and seal it before putting it into the outside trash. Just don’t tell the plastic bag recycling advocates.

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Fewer miles, fewer dollars

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An interesting bit of information from the Transportation Department: Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007. That’s the biggest decline in American history. (The news may come as a surprise to Washington-area residents — traffic hasn’t gotten any better around here!)

It’s good news for the environment, but bad for the department, which depends largely on revenue from gas taxes to pay for highways and bridges. The Highway Trust Fund collected $3 billion less in 2008 than it did in 2007.

And it underscores a key problem facing our transportation policy. Washington wants more fuel-efficient vehicles, and that’s a laudable goal for many reasons. But how do we continue funding our transportation infrastructure when that funding depends on gasoline taxes?

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Obama pitches curveball to federal building managers

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Federal building managers already are buzzing over President-elect Barack Obama’s plan, announced in his weekend radio address, to make public buildings more energy efficient.

Obama said he would launch a “massive effort” to upgrade federal buildings with new heating systems and more efficient light bulbs to help jumpstart the economy. Additional details will be released in coming weeks, with the hope that Congress will pass the plan immediately after reconvening in January.

Agencies already are under intense pressure to meet existing energy reduction mandates, so the announcement that more requirements are forthcoming was a “curveball,” said Mark Ewing, who manages energy consumption at the 8,000 federal buildings owned or leased by the General Services Administration.

Still, Ewing said he’s confident that building managers will rise to the challenge to meet the new requirements. Speaking this morning at a energy efficiency summit in Washington, Ewing said many managers have already contacted him, looking for guidance on how to meet the as-yet-unspecified goals.

“I’ve had a flurry of e-mails already about what’s my plan,” Ewing said. “As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to go back to my office and think about what my plan is.”

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First target of Obama energy policy: stovepipes

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We’ve already reported that agencies are likely to face new environmental goals under the Obama administration. They’re also going to have to learn to work together.

The group of advisers developing key proposals and plans for energy and environmental policies under the new administration met this week to discuss issues that will need to be addressed right away, like climate change and rising energy costs. The head of the group, Carol Browner, who led the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, said the focus will be on getting agencies like the EPA, Energy Department and others to better coordinate their efforts.

One of the great things about this transition and one of the things that’s sort of different from prior transitions is this recognition that you do have to work across lines and that you don’t have to just sit in the traditional government stovepipes. Some of the best ideas will be ones that can move back and forth.

You can check out more of the meeting, along with an interview with team member Heather Zichal, below.

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Energy plans could involve agencies

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Existing agencies and departments could be called on to help implement new energy legislation, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., this morning.

Speaking this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said agencies may be playing bigger roles in energy reduction, should energy legislation be passed. That could include administering programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon cap and trades.

“A significant time and opportunity cost is associated with starting a new institution from scratch. We need to make good use of the existing institutions we have,” he said in a statement.

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