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By Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2008 levels over the next ten years by shifting to renewable energy sources such as solar power.

The executive order signed by Obama Thursday builds on a 2010 directive from the White House requiring 35 U.S. agencies to limit their energy consumption to help combat climate change. Private companies that contract with the federal government have also agreed to pursue emissions reductions in concert with the most recent directive.

As the single largest consumer of energy in the U.S., the federal government can help create a “virtuous cycle,” driving down costs and reducing environmental damage, Obama said. With little support in Congress for his environmental initiatives, Obama has used executive orders to try to limit U.S. gas emissions.

“We thought it was important for us to lead by example,” Obama said Thursday while meeting executives from International Business Machines Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and other companies at the Energy Department. “We’re proving that it is possible to grow our economy robustly while at the same time doing the right thing for our environment and tackling climate change in a serious way.”

The administration has been trying to build momentum for an international accord on cutting greenhouse gas emissions at a summit in Paris at the end of this year. Having won an agreement from China to cap emissions, Obama has been challenging other nations to follow suit.

Obama spoke with the company leaders after touring a set of solar panels on the roof of the Energy Department in Washington.

The companies, including General Electric Co., Hewlett-Packard, and Northrop Grumman Corp., pledged to increase the use of renewable energy. IBM setting a goal of reducing carbon emissions 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. The White House released a scorecard Thursday tracking the emissions disclosures for companies that supply goods and services to the federal government.

Chris Warren, a spokesman for the Institute for Energy Research in Washington, said Obama’s move “will have no impact on global temperatures.”

“The president is clearly trying to boost his climate credentials to appease the national environmental lobby, regardless of what it means for the average American,” said Warren, whose organization supports limited government regulation of utilities.

Under Obama’s order, federal agencies will be required to obtain 25 percent of their total energy from renewable sources by 2025. The order targets the 360,000 federal buildings across the U.S., requiring a 2.5 percent annual reduction in energy use for the next decade. The federal government’s fleet of 650,000 vehicles will be required to reduce per-mile carbon emissions by 30 percent.

The goal of reducing emissions by 40 percent already includes the 17 percent reduction achieved since 2008, said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to Obama. Reaching the goal would save taxpayers $18 billion per year and would be equivalent to taking 5.5 million cars off the road, Deese said.

Photo: A coal power plant in New Mexico (Glennia via Flickr)

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