Trump’s team ignoring Obama sustainability mandate

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2018

Dozens of federal agencies have not released reports on environmental sustainability during the Trump administration, failing to abide by an Obama-era rule.

In 2015, President Obama signed an executive order on federal sustainability, requiring agencies to write reports called strategic sustainability performance plans, or SSPPs. The reports provide synopses of what agencies do on a swath of energy and environmental topics like climate change resilience, greenhouse gas reduction, power-hungry data centers, water use and the vehicles in their fleets. The order required agencies to publish them online annually.

That’s not happening.

According to a review by E&E News of 24 agencies, only one agency — the Department of Homeland Security — is up to date in publishing its sustainability reports.

While President Trump has rescinded many of Obama’s executive orders, this provision has so far survived, placing his administration in violation of the order, officially called “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade.” And while executive orders aren’t as powerful as laws or regulations, they have the force of law unless they’re rescinded by the president.

“It has not been revoked,” Colleen Morgan, president of Corporate Sustainability Advisors LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in federal contracting, said by phone. “That said, it’s not a priority, and in some cases isn’t not even being followed.”

Since the later years of the George W. Bush administration and throughout the Obama presidency, the U.S. government has moved to cut down its carbon footprint and the footprint of the companies with which it does business, Morgan said.

But the fact the Trump has yet to undo this order has Morgan and her peers puzzled, given Trump’s moves to roll back so many other Obama-era environmental actions.

“Why they haven’t revoked it, I don’t know,” she said. “We’ve all been scratching our heads.”

The administration is choosing not to enforce the order, she said. “They’re supposed to annually publish these SSPPs,” she added. “Every federal agency.”

Heather Zichal, a former top climate aide to Obama, said the previous administration pursued these reports because “we needed an accountability mechanism.”

The reports helped agencies compare their progress against one another and helped the White House reinforce sustainability as a priority, she said in an interview.

“If you can’t measure it, there’s no way to track it,” Zichal said. “So producing these reports helps provide a certain degree of transparency and accountability, which is incredibly important when you’re trying to move agencies in a different, more green and sustainable direction.”

The reports typically come out over the summer, meaning the administration, aside from DHS, is nearly two years behind schedule.

Of the 24 agencies E&E News contacted and whose reports E&E News reviewed, only DHS replied with a copy of its latest report.

Still, it’s possible the reports have been held up at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, run by Mick Mulvaney. Under the order, Mulvaney, as OMB director, is required to sign off on their publication.

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said his agency filed its annual sustainability report to OMB in June. A State Department official said the agency filed its 2017 report with the White House last year and is working on its 2018 report.

“We refer you to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for questions on how the administration shares these reports with the public,” the official said.

Separately, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture provided copies of its available reports, all of which were published during the Obama administration.

Damian Bednarz, who worked during the Obama administration as a liaison between the Department of Energy and the White House, said the reports offered a look at the guts of an agency.

“I think it was like a 360-degree view of everything from how they do business, how they maintain their energy, where they’re getting their energy from, are they increasing energy efficiency policies, reducing demand,” he said by phone.