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.


An EV1 electric car plugged in for recharging - one of a variety of cars that federal fleets could use to meet the Energy Policy Act's requirements. (Photo courtesy General Motors)
In ruling on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups earlier this year, Federal District Court Judge William Alsup found that all 15 federal agencies charged in the suit have violated the Energy Policy Act's alternative fuel vehicle acquisition requirements in at least some years. All of the agencies have further violated the Act by failing to publicly disclose whether they had acquired such vehicles through annual compliance reports, Judge Alsup ruled.

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.

farm machines

These farm machines at the Department of Agriculture's research center in Beltsville, Maryland run on a mixture of diesel fuel and biodiesel, which is made from soybean oil. (Photo by Bob Nichols courtesy USDA)
The federal government currently has more than 600,000 vehicles in its fleet, making it the largest fleetholder in the nation. But most federal agencies have not come close to meeting these minimums, the lawsuit charged.

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.


Clean Cities program director Shelley Launey bought her compressed natural gas (CNG) powered Honda Civic GX in December 2001. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
"These compliance plans and reports will finally set enforceable deadlines," said Tutchton. "Maybe now Bush II can enforce his father's 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.


This Ford P2000 fuel cell electric vehicle combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen to create electricity, which powers the car's electric motors. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
Alternative fuel vehicles "are available on the market," said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The federal government has no excuse for not following the law. Hopefully by exposing the failings of the government we can redirect the current national energy plan away from a drill and despoil mantra and toward cleaner future."

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.


One of the most energy efficient cars on the market is the Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric car. (Photo courtesy Toyota)
"Burning alternative fuels as opposed to gasoline will lessen the toxic chemicals currently spewing from our tailpipes, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution - the main culprit behind global warming," said Elisa Lynch of Bluewater Network.

"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."