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Biden gives the federal government 3 decades to reach an ambitious climate goal

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Biden Promises the federal government will be carbon neutral by the year 2050. He's just laid out a number of executive orders to get to that point. They include ordering federal agencies to buy electric vehicles and to power government facilities using renewable energies like wind and solar. With us now is Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser. Good morning, Ms. McCarthy.

GINA MCCARTHY: Hi, Noel. How are you? Thanks for letting me be here.

KING: We're happy to have you. The federal government owns about 300,000 buildings and about 600,000 cars. So that's a lot of material. But it's a very big country, isn't it? So what's the thinking about how these executive orders make a dent in climate change?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's really part of the president's sustainability efforts that are certainly much broader than the federal government. But it's about making the federal government step up as well. You know, the president yesterday signed this executive order because he wants to continue to invest in America. And this is another way to do that. It's really telling the federal government to lead by example. And it's giving us all really an opportunity to step up and use those buildings and use those resources and the federal government's purchasing power to lead by example, you know? If we're really out there talking about climate change, let's start it ourselves...

KING: I was going to ask...

MCCARTHY: ...Let's make sure that we're out there leveraging our resources.

KING: ...About this idea of leading by example. Is the idea that if the federal government does its thing, makes these investments, that corporate America then follows? We've seen other countries go about it this way.

MCCARTHY: Well, it is - don't forget that the president's interest is making sure that we're investing in America and our manufacturing and our products and our workers. So it is about moving forward in the United States with good, clean energy and the kinds of technologies that we want to pursue more broadly. And you're right. We do own 300,000 buildings and 600,000 cars and trucks. And so this gives us the leverage to really change the federal government at scale and use our procurement power in a way that's going to really drive resilient operations in communities across the country.

And so I think this is a great step forward. We're going to be able to show how this can be done. We're going to grow our own jobs right here in America and advance on manufacturing. And obviously, we're going to look to be able to make all of the contracts and the purchasing that we do available to states and local communities so that they can take advantage of the scale and the breadth of the federal government's ability to make change happen. And essentially, that's what this is all about.

KING: One of the goals in this plan is to make the federal supply chain also net zero. Now, that would mean not buying from companies that have not cut their own carbon footprint. What tough choices do you imagine having to make, because you will have to make some, won't you?

MCCARTHY: Well, we're going to have to make a lot of choices. And we've already started doing that. I mean, we're going to be choosing clean energy and those manufacturing of clean energy products right here in the United States that we can take advantage of. And that's going to grow our jobs. That's going to advance ourselves. You know, the Department of Defense at Edwards Air Force Base in California is adding 520 megawatts of carbon-free electricity to the grid. And that's happening because we make products here that will allow it to happen. And that's going to create jobs right here in the United States - and construction jobs as well actually getting the good benefits of that. So it's really ways in which we can invest in ourselves again.

But most importantly, it's leading by example. The president is asking all companies to step up, all of us to start moving towards a clean energy future. And this is his way of saying that we're going to lead it. We're going to provide opportunities for new jobs and new technologies to thrive. And if we do that, we're going to be, I think, better neighbors in communities all across the country - and ensure that we're investing in environmental justice communities that have been left behind, making sure that we can actually invest in the kind of transportation choices that the public can then take advantage of. So there's all kinds of opportunities here, I think, Noel, that have been left on the sideline.

KING: A lot of opportunity. But I would also note that because these are executive orders, there is nothing the Biden administration could do to stop a forthcoming Republican administration from undoing all of this, is there?

MCCARTHY: Well, we'll be signing - obviously, we'll be signing contracts that we can use that are - they're certainly not going to be one or two years. These things take time. And we're going to be actually moving forward. And I think the benefit of all this, when you talk about longevity, is that we're doing things that clean up the air. We're doing things that clean up the water. We're doing things that will actually make a difference in people's lives on the ground.

KING: White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.