Biden Commits U.S. Government to Net-Zero Emissions by 2050

Source: By Katy Stech Ferek, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Thursday, December 9, 2021

Executive order directs federal agencies to make all of their vehicle purchases zero-emission units by 2035

President Biden, speaking to the media Wednesday before boarding Marine One in Washington, has made addressing climate change a centerpiece of his administration. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON—President Biden on Wednesday committed the federal government to net-zero emissions by 2050, including directing federal agencies to make all of their vehicle purchases zero-emission units by 2035.

Mr. Biden signed a wide-ranging executive order steering the business of the U.S. federal government, which spends $650 billion a year on goods and services, toward sustainable products and low-carbon industries.

“As the single largest landowner, energy consumer, and employer in the Nation, the Federal Government can catalyze private sector investment and expand the economy and American industry by transforming how we build, buy, and manage electricity, vehicles, buildings, and other operations to be clean and sustainable,” the order said.

Mr. Biden has made addressing climate change a centerpiece of his administration, and is using executive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The executive order signed Wednesday is aimed at providing specific measures and deadlines for the government to achieve broad goals laid out by the White House.

“This is a difficult undertaking, but with this sustainability plan, they are really laying the groundwork for getting us all the way there,” said Lindsey Griffith, federal policy director at the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force.

The order said federal agencies will buy only zero-emission passenger vehicles and light trucks to add to its fleet of 600,000 vehicles by the end of the 2027 fiscal year, with 100% compliance by all vehicles by 2050. Only 1.5% of its vehicles currently are zero-emission.

Some agencies have already taken steps toward integrating electric vehicles into its fleet, including the Department of Homeland Security which plans to begin field testing an electric Ford mustang model next year for law enforcement use. The U.S. Department of Interior’s U.S. Park Police have begun using lightweight motorcycles and dirt bikes at some locations.

The order also calls for agencies to achieve net-zero emissions across its portfolio of buildings, campuses and other facilities by 2045, including by making energy efficiency improvements.

The order also called for federal agencies to run on carbon-free electricity sources by 2030. The U.S. government, the country’s largest electricity consumer spending $4.5 billion annually, uses 40% carbon-free electricity now.

Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) the top Republican on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, criticized the order’s initiatives, saying it would expand government bureaucracy.

“With this action, he’s telling millions of Americans who provide most of the energy we use every day that he thinks they should be thrown out of work,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement.

The moves could get the Biden administration closer to its goal of cutting planet-warming U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

“By transforming how the federal government builds, buys, and manages its assets and operations, the federal government will support the growth of America’s clean energy and clean technology industries,” the White House said.

The White House said it will use money from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, the annual budget and the Build Back Better Act, which Congress has yet to pass, to pay for the initiatives.

The League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy group, praised the Biden move but said lawmakers need to act.

“It is imperative that Congress passes the Build Back Better Act this year and federal appropriations bills before the continuing resolution expires in February, to ensure that the federal government has the additional funding necessary to deliver on this ambitious plan,” the group said.

—Alex Leary contributed to this article.

Write to Katy Stech Ferek at