President Obama has directed federal agencies to buy alternative fuel cars and light-duty trucks, with the objective of buying only alternative fuel vehicles by 2015.  The Obama Administration launched this initiative by leasing more than 100 electric vehicles.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu said this initiative will help meet the President's goal of putting 1 million alternative fuel vehicles on the road by 2015 and a 30% reduction in the US government's dependence on petroleum by 2020.

This is not the first time the US Government has attempted to initiate demand for alternative fuel vehicles by mandating purchases by government agencies.  The first Energy Policy Acts (EPAct) of 1992 and 2005 require federal fleets with 20 or more vehicles to lease or purchase alternative fuel vehicles for at least 75 percent of all new light-duty vehicle acquisitions, and to use only alternative fuel in such vehicles unless granted a waiver. 

Executive Order 13423, signed by President George W. Bush in January 2007, added the requirements that federal agencies also: (1) increase overall alternative fuel use by 10 percent annually; (2) reduce petroleum consumption by 2 percent annually through 2015; and (3) purchase plug-in hybrid electric vehicles when available at a reasonable cost.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that federal agencies had mixed results in meeting these existing mandates in in fiscal year 2007.  While all the agencies met or exceeded the requirement to acquire alternative fuel vehicles, they did so by including vehicles that were not subject to the requirement.  The GAO also found that neither the Department of Energy nor the other individual agencies reported their compliance with the requirement that they use only alternative fuels in such vehicles, even though they are required by law to make such reports.  In fact, the GAO found that in fiscal year 2006, most agencies fueled their alternative fuel vehicles with 100% gasoline, and the GAO found no evidence that this practice had changed in fiscal year 2007.

The GAO was not able to confirm assertions by many agencies that they had met the objectives of increasing their alternative fuel use by 10 percent and reducing their petroleum use by 2%.  According to the GAO, "persistent data problems call these results into question."  In addition, the GAO noted that it will be difficult for agencies to meet these objectives because of the limited availability of alternative fuels in some markets.  Lastly, not a single federal agency acquired plug-in hybrid electric vehicles during fiscal year 2007 for the simple reason that they were not commercially available.

The Obama Administration is working to improve execution on the existing and new federal mandates.  Last year, the General Service Administration (GSA) doubled the size of the federal hybrid fleet, helping the government reduce its petroleum consumption by 385,000 barrels per year.  In the announcement earlier this week, the GSA promised to coordinate with federal agencies to establish fueling and recharging stations the new fleets will require.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

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