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Getting the 411 on cutting energy use

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The Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program is offering free online training sessions to help federal energy and environmental professionals learn the basics about cutting energy consumption in their facilities and operations.

The sessions, held the first Thursday of each month, will discuss requirements to report greenhouse gas emissions, install advanced electrical meters on facilities, cut water consumption and make existing buildings more energy efficient, among others.

The 90-minute sessions will be offered live via satellite or through streaming video at your desktop. Registrations are now being accepted online.

The first session was an overview of the executive order President Obama issued in October on greening the government’s operations. It’s already occured, but an archive of the webcast is available here.

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Deadline looms to submit green ideas

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Heads up, federal procrastinators: You’ve got until midnight Saturday to submit your suggestions for making the government more environmentally friendly and to vote on those ideas already submitted by your more industrious colleagues. 

As we reported earlier, the most popular ideas submitted during the GreenGov Challenge will be presented to agencies, which are right now figuring out how to meet the ambitious environmental goals laid out earlier this month by President Barack Obama.

With a portfolio of more than 500,000 buildings and 600,000 vehicles, the government is a prime target for testing ideas to conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions and promote environmental sustainability, Vice President Joe Biden said.

Any idea, big or small, about how to make this government more efficient can make a significant impact on our energy consumption and our energy future.

As an added incentive,  Biden recorded a special message encouraging federal employees and military service members to participate. Check it out below, and then submit your own ideas.

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Leading the (green) way

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Federal agencies having a tough time meeting the plethora of green government mandates should take a close look at the 15 federal teams who have been recognized this year for spearheading environmentally sustainable practices at their agencies.

Winners of the 2009 White House Closing the Circle Awards — handed out Wednesday during the middle of the three-day 2009 Federal Environmental Symposium East in Bethesda, Md. –  are demonstrating best practices in areas such as recycling, green purchasing and fuel conservation.

The big winner was the Air Force, which received four awards for initiatives under way at local bases and headquarters. The Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in Denver was the biggest individual winner, taking home two awards.

A complete list of the winners — along with some of their accomplishments — is after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Green products guide

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With pressure mounting to purchase environmentally friendly products, sorting through the various federal programs to determine whether there are specific products identified that meet environmental standards can be daunting.

After all, federal agencies are rating scores of products — everything from awards and bed linens to vending machines and water coolers — for recycled and biobased content, energy and water savings and absence of environmentally harmful chemicals or gases.

Agencies are required to buy environmentally preferable products, but finding out whether green alternatives exist for products being purchased is often a time- consuming and frustrating exercise.

Now there is a tool to make it a little easier. An intern at the White House Office of the Federal Environmental Executive has compiled environmental ratings from nine federal programs on products cutting across 18 broad categories into an Excel spreadsheet.

It’s the first time all of the designated products have been compiled into an easy to use tool for facility and fleet managers, information technology personnel, contracting officials and those who are certifying the products and services, said Dana Arnold, the acting federal environmental executive.

Arnold said the tool will be posted to both www.ofee.gov and www.fedcenter.gov and updated as new products are designated.

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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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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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