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Biden signs executive order to make the federal government carbon-neutral by 2050


It seems U.S. lawmakers agree on one thing, spending lots of money on the military - some $768 billion. The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, passed last night and is headed towards the Senate. Joining us now is Connor O'Brien, a defense reporter for Politico. Welcome to the program.

NPR's Jeff Brady will have more. Jeff, my apologies. So I want to talk to you about President Biden's executive order on climate. What's in it?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Well, President Biden wants the federal government to use its $650 billion in annual purchasing power to focus on cleaner energy sources, ones that don't emit the greenhouse gases that are changing the climate. And a lot of work is needed to make that happen. The government has 300,000 buildings and 600,000 cars and trucks, with the goal of zero-emission vehicles in just over a decade. Part of the goal there is to jumpstart the burgeoning electric car business in the U.S. And the 2030 clean electricity goal for the federal government - that's a big deal because the federal government is the largest electricity consumer in the country, so that should give a boost to companies that generate wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power.

CORNISH: Is this executive order because the president is having a hard time with a legislative package on this issue?

BRADY: Well, I think that's maybe a little bit of it, but it's not directly connected. This builds on an earlier order that President Biden signed - that President Biden signed just after he took office. But it adds on more detail. That big budget reconciliation package that the House passed last week, it does include some of the president's climate agenda. Originally, the administration had planned for a very ambitious spending bill that would put the country on a path to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement, but that faced opposition from within the president's own party, notably from Senator Joe Manchin, who represents the coal state of West Virginia. This executive order certainly can't make up for that weakened legislation because this applies only to the federal government. But this is what the president can accomplish now, and he certainly wants to be seen as making progress on climate change.

CORNISH: How can this be effective compared to a law?

BRADY: Yeah, there are limitations to an executive order. The administration could need more money to make this happen. Congress would have to allocate that. And then another president could just come along and reverse these orders. In fact, this order is based on one former President Obama signed during his administration. Then President Trump revoked it and issued an order to focus on cutting costs instead. Now President Biden is reversing that reversal and issuing this climate-focused order that's even stronger than what Obama had originally called for.

CORNISH: So realistically, how much of these - the changes in these orders, how much can this administration accomplish before a potential change in administration?

BRADY: Certainly getting all of this done would be a tall order, but there are some specific examples. The Interior Department plans to transition its fleet of about 100 motorcycles that the U.S. Park Police use. They appear to be on track to do that mostly before the end of Biden's first term. But, you know, what's really important here is that by setting deadlines for agencies to accomplish these goals, they aim to start these transitions now. So even if a future president reverses the executive order, there's still a lot that's already been done.

CORNISH: That's Jeff Brady from NPR's climate team. Thank you, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.