The announcement was held up by administration officials as evidence of Obama’s commitment to his climate and energy agenda, which has run into opposition in Congress and from coal, oil and manufacturing groups.
The White House said the targets – which are set against 2008 emissions levels – would reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80m metric tons by 2020, and save the government between $8bn (£5bn) and $11bn in energy costs.
Obama will also propose a tripling of government loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to more than $54bn, an administration official said, a move sure to win over some Republican lawmakers who want more nuclear power to be part of climate change legislation.
The loan guarantees, which follow Obama’s pledge in his State of the Union address to work to expand nuclear power production, will be announced as part of his budget proposal on Monday, the official said.
The federal goverment is the largest single user of fuel and electricity in the country and is responsible for emissions to match. Including the department of defence, it owns nearly 500,000 buildings, more than 600,000 vehicles, and it purchases $500bn in goods and services every year.
“As the largest energy consumer in the US, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” said President Obama. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”
The White House ordered federal government departments last October to begin measuring their use of electricity and fuel, and make energy savings.
Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the effort was an important show of leadership. “It shows the commitment of federal government to lead by example and to take on its responsibility to reduce pollution and help stimulate clean energy economy,” she said.
The cuts will come from across 35 government agencies and departments. The Treasury department pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33%. The department of Defence – which operates 300,000 of those government buildings – pledged to cut its emissions by 34%. However, that effort excludes combat operations, and would cover just 40% of DoD greenhouse gas emissions.
Sutley said government departments across the country were already taking action, installing solar panels and wind turbines. The National Renewable Energy Labs in Denver was aiming to reduce energy use of its data centre by 65%.
Today’s announcement covers only direct emissions from electricity in government office buildings and military installations, and petrol for government cars. Departments are to report back in 2010 about other potential areas of energy savings, including workers’ commutes. The order also does not cover government contractors, officials said.
The initiative comes at a time when the Obama administration is determined to demonstrate its commitment to action on climate change. Obama in his State of the Union address pledged to work to help build Republican support for climate change proposals now under discussion in the Senate. But most observers think getting a climate bill through Congress in 2010 still remains a long shot.