Bigfoot lives, and he’s not hiding out from the paparazzi somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He drives more than 630,000 vehicles. He is the largest consumer of energy in the United States, costing taxpayers about $14.5 billion. He generates about 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly, approximately 1.4 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases per year. Who is Bigfoot? He’s Uncle Sam, our very own federal government. And he’s got a carbon footprint bigger than all of Belgium, Greece, Sweden, or Vietnam.
President-elect Obama and the 111th Congress know that legislation to reduce U.S. carbon emissions is sorely needed. But the President need not wait for Congress to act to make a difference, or to send a message to the public and the world that real change is coming. Bigfoot needs a smaller shoe size. It is time for the federal government to lead by example.
As the Member Scholars of the Center for Progressive Reform point out in Protecting Public Health and the Environment By the Stroke of a Presidential Pen, the new President can issue an Executive Order requiring each federal agency to measure, report, and reduce its carbon footprint. The goal should be bold; the commitment credible. The Executive Order should require all federal agencies to reduce their carbon footprint by 10 percent by 2013 and by 25 percent by 2017.
Such a move would result in immediate carbon emission reductions, but several additional benefits would result. First, it would transform the market. As one of the world’s largest purchasers of automobiles, electronics, and buildings, the federal government wields enormous market power. Second, it would generate a comprehensive inventory of federal government greenhouse gas emissions, laying the groundwork for developing a universal standard for measuring carbon footprints. Finally, it would set an example for corporations and private citizens to follow.
While such an Executive Order on climate change would be bold, it is not unprecedented. Unlike the federal government in recent years, governors of several states have taken the bull by the horns, setting emissions limits through executive orders. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have each established by executive order aggressive, statewide greenhouse emissions reduction targets. (Some states, such as New York, Washington, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey and Oregon, have established reduction targets by statute.) Similarly, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich mandated by executive order a six-percent reduction in state government greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack mandated efficiency improvements in state government facilities by 15 percent by 2010.
A new President’s first 100-day agenda is often imagined in legislative terms, but his authority over the executive branch is far-reaching. By ordering all federal agencies to measure and reduce their carbon footprint, President Obama will tell the nation and the world that the United States is committed to promoting energy efficiency and combating the causes of climate change. It will be a simple, bold signal that even the most solitary Sasquatch will hear: the era of Bigfoot government is over.