Obama orders agencies to cut federal vehicle emissions

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The White House said Thursday the federal government plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the government’s 655,000 vehicles by 30 percent by 2025, as it dramatically ramps up the government’s purchase of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

President Barack Obama’s order requires federal agencies by 2020 to buy zero emission or plug-in hybrid vehicles to account for at least 20 percent of new vehicle purchases. By 2025, electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel vehicles would have to account for 50 percent of new vehicle purchases by federal agencies. The agencies must also plan to ensure proper charging.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG — noted that state and federal government purchases “of alternative powertrain vehicles still comprise only a small fraction of their overall automotive acquisitions.”

The group said in the first 10 months of 2014, federal, state and local governments registered 175,122 new vehicles, of which 512 were electric cars – or less than one-third of 1 percent. Hybrids represented 4 percent (7,048) of new government vehicles.

This is the third move by the Obama administration to reduce the government’s fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House said Thursday it would reduce per-mile greenhouse gas emissions from federal fleets by 30 percent from 2014 levels by 2025, and increase the percentage of zero-emission and plug-in hybrids. The move is part of a broader effort to cut the federal government’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions — by cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2025 over 2008 levels and saving $18 billion in energy costs.

In the 10 states adopting a mandate for automakers to sell zero emission vehicles — led by California — just 1.54 percent of new government registrations were plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles. Other states with the mandate include Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

A 2007 law requires that the government buy only low greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles; another law requires that 75 percent of light-duty vehicles qualify as alternative-fuel vehicles.

Obama issued a 2009 memorandum requiring all government light-duty vehicle purchases or leases to qualify as alternative fuel vehicles. Other orders require an increase in alternative fuel consumption, 10 percent annually, and a 30 percent reduction in petroleum consumption by 2020 over 2005 levels.

In 2011, Obama issued an order that all federal vehicles purchases starting in 2015 be advanced technology models. The Secret Service said in 2011 that the directive wouldn’t apply to vehicles used for some law enforcement or security reasons by various federal agencies.

“I’m directing our departments and our agencies to make sure 100 percent of the vehicles they buy are fuel-efficient or clean energy cars and trucks by 2015. Not 50 percent, not 75 percent — 100 percent of our vehicles,” Obama said in April 2011 at an appearance in Landover, Maryland, at a UPS facility to urge private companies to green their vehicle fleets.

The White House says the advanced technology vehicles that the government will buy in 2015 include hybrids, electric vehicles and alternative fueled vehicles. Among those are “flex fuel” vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol or gasoline — something that costs automakers less than $100. Many full-size SUVs are flex-fuel models, and automakers get credits toward meeting fuel efficiency standards to build them even if drivers never use the higher blend of ethanol.

The government can take credit for buying those advanced vehicles even if they continue to operate using traditional fuel of 90 percent gasoline.

In 2013, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee asked several federal agencies whether it makes sense to keep buying alternative fuel vehicles.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., sent letters to the Interior Department, Air Force, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about alternative vehicle purchases after the Government Accountability Office raised questions in July about how the federal fleet is being managed.

“In our current fiscal environment, we might need to re-evaluate our fleet program and the purchases required to maintain an effective and efficient fleet,” he wrote.

The federal government spends about $3 billion annually to buy, operate and maintain about 450,000 civilian and non-tactical military vehicles — excluding the U.S. Postal Service.

The GAO said that the VA has built 45 E-85 fueling stations at medical centers across the country, at a cost of approximately $17 million. The VA plans additional investment in order to use the higher ethanol fuel.

The overall federal fleet has grown 19 percent since 2002. Obama in 2011 directed federal agencies to look at ways of eliminating unnecessary vehicles from the fleet and setting goals to meet by the end of 2015.