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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran September 7, 2011

Sen. Rob Portman says the U.S. government is the nation's largest energy user

Ohio's Sen. Rob Portman is co-sponsor of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, introduced in May, which aims to promote energy savings in residential and commercial buildings and industry through the use of energy-efficient technology, building codes and financial incentives.

Portman says the bipartisan measure will help the economy, among other benefits, by increasing productivity and creating jobs. In an article written for the Toledo Blade, the first-term Republican said the legislation will also save millions of tax dollars because "it will require the federal government — the largest energy user in the country — to adopt energy-saving techniques."

That stirred the curiosity of PolitiFact Ohio, if not our skepticism. Is the federal government really the country's biggest energy user? And -- drum roll -- how big is it?

We asked Portman's office for background. Highlighting the bill's bipartisan support, they reached across the aisle and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

President Obama, they noted, announced last year that the federal government would reduce its greenhouse gas pollution 28 percent by 2020, to "lead by example in building the clean energy economy."

"As the largest energy consumer in the United States," the president said, "we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient. Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy."

Showing how large a consumer it is, the White House said the government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone.

Keep in mind, that does not pay simply for heating and cooling buildings in Washington. It includes the costs of fueling military jets, ships and vehicles. The Defense Department is the single biggest energy user in government.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy -- a coalition of business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders -- gave testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in support of Portman's bill in June.

"Without the energy efficiency improvements we’ve made since 1973, we would need about 50 percent more energy to power today’s economy than we are currently using," she said, citing earlier federal efforts to reduce energy use and pollution.

"As the nation's largest energy consumer," Callahan said, "it is critically important that the federal government lead by example."

How large is largest?

Callahan said the government accounted for 1.6 quadrillion BTUs of energy use in fiscal 2008, costing $24.5 billion. That use represented about 1.6 percent of the nation's energy consumption for the year, she said.

The Alliance to Save Energy told us her source was the Federal Energy Management Program's annual report to Congress in January 2010.

Portman's office provided the same report, which is based on data submitted by federal agencies to the Department of Energy. Its website has figures dating back to 1949.

On the Truth-O-Meter, Portman’s statement rates as True.

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Our Sources

Toledo Blade, "Toledo can lead on energy," Aug. 28, 2011

Library of Congress, Bill Summary & Status, 112th Congress, S.1000

Email exchange, office of Sen. Portman, Aug. 31, 2011

New York Times, "U.S. Government Plans to Reduce Its Energy Use," Jan. 29, 2010

White House Press Office, "President Obama Sets Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target for Federal Operations," Jan. 29, 2010

U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, testimony of Kateri Callahan, president, Alliance to Save Energy, June 9, 2011

U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Energy Management Program, Annual Report to Congress on Federal Government Energy Management and Conservation Programs Fiscal Year 2007, Jan. 27, 2010

U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Energy Management Program Annual Reports

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Primary Energy Overview and Government Energy Consumption

Phone interview, Alliance to Save Energy, Sept. 1, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Sen. Rob Portman says the U.S. government is the nation's largest energy user

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