Agencies Ordered to Obey Alternative Vehicle Law
SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 8, 2002 (ENS) - Almost every cabinet level agency in the federal government has violated the Energy Policy Act of 1992 by failing to buy or lease the legally required percentages of alternative fuel vehicles for their federal fleets, a judge ruled Wednesday. The ruling could force 15 federal agencies to step up purchases of vehicles powered by fuel cells, natural gas, biodiesel, and other alternative fuels.
The lawsuit was brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network, and the Sierra Club.
"This is a major victory for anyone who believes this nation's transportation system is dangerously addicted to petroleum including, it seems, President [George W.] Bush's father. Hopefully the federal government will finally get with the program," said Jay Tutchton, staff attorney with Earthjustice.
The Energy Policy Act, signed into law after the Gulf War by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, was designed to wean 10 percent of American transportation fuel demand from petroleum by the year 2000 and 30 percent by 2010. The Act requires all federal agencies with light duty fleet vehicles in major metropolitan areas to acquire at least 75 percent alternative fuel vehicles each year instead of traditional petroleum fueled cars and trucks.
For example, the Department of Commerce purchased just 11 percent alternative fuel vehicles in 1998, 16 percent in 1999 and 17 percent in 2000. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) purchased just 35 percent alternative fuel vehicles in 1998.
Other federal agencies meet the requirements only on paper, by purchasing vehicles that are alternative fuel capable, but which can also run on regular gasoline.
Judge Alsup ordered the government to prepare overdue reports of their non-compliance with the Energy Policy Act by November 26, 2002, and to make these reports available to the public over the Internet by January 31, 2003. In these reports, every federal agency must not only admit its prior failings to acquire the legally required number of AFVs, but also must submit a specific plan, including dates, by which it will come into compliance with the law.
The ruling applies to the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Justice, Labor, State and Transportation, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, EPA, General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Besides helping to bring these agencies into compliance with the Energy Policy Act, Judge Alsup's ruling could also prompt new regulations requiring private and municipal fleets in major metropolitan areas to buy alternative fuel vehicles for a percentage of their fleets.
The Act required the Department of Energy (DOE) to consider a regulation extending the law's requirements to certain urban fleets, but so far, the agency has failed to do. Judge Alsup ordered both the DOE and the environmental groups to provide more information on how long the court should give the DOE to take action on the overdue regulation.
Alternative fuel options include rechargeable electric engines, cars that run on natural gas or ethanol, fuel cells powered by gasoline, methanol or natural gas, solar cells, and hybrid vehicles using a combination of energy sources.
Environmentalists concerned about air pollution have long touted alternative fuel vehicles as a ready way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Other benefits to the vehicles include lower emissions of carbon dioxide - a major greenhouse gas - and less need for oil from U.S. public lands and overseas sources.
"The U.S. buys more than a half million barrels of oil a day from Iraq," added Daniel Becker, director of Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "Instead we should be using alternative fuels and increasing the fuel economy of our cars, trucks and [sport utility vehicles]. It's crucial that the administration stop breaking this law because it moves us closer to reducing our dependence on oil."