The Path to Clean Energy and Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Title CardThe Path to Clean Energy and Alternative Fuel Vehicles

By Scott Israelite, Staff Contributor

On March 19, 2015, President Obama issued an executive order that laid out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by federal agencies.[1] The executive order specifically addresses federal fleets of vehicles and implements new requirements to advance its goal of creating a greener fleet. The requirements apply to agencies that operate a fleet of at least twenty motor vehicles.[2] Applicable agencies must evaluate whether it can decrease the size of its fleet by getting rid of unnecessary vehicles in its inventory.[3] The agency must also comply with a schedule set forth in the executive order to reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions over time.[4] Data collected using vehicle telematics must be used to promote efficient fleet management, and sent to several federal databases for oversight.[5]

Agencies must plan to have twenty percent of its fleet comprised of zero emission or plug-in hybrid agency passenger vehicles by the end of 2020, and fifty percent by the end of 2025.[6] Refueling infrastructure and other power storage should be built to support the concomitant change in vehicle needs.[7] The head of the agency is accountable for implementing such measures.[8] Coordination by certain specified agencies is required to actively search for ways to share fueling infrastructure and logistical resources to ease the transition toward an increasing number of electric vehicles.[9] The General Services Administration (GSA) must provide an adequate variety and number of alternative fuel vehicles, at no greater than market cost, to meet the goals of this executive order.[10] DOE is tasked with helping the United States Postal Service (USPS) evaluate and report on the best strategy to transition the USPS fleet.[11]

“Shifting the makeup of the 650,000 federal fleet vehicles, along with the other environmentally friendly requirements laid out in this executive order, is expected to cut GHG emissions by 26 million metric tons by 2025, which is environmentally equivalent to taking almost 5.5 million cars out of circulation for a year.”

This executive order only applies to agencies located within the United States, unless the head of an agency not located in the United States deems compliance would be beneficial.[12] However, agencies outside of the United States should comply with the overall goals of this order to the extent it is practicable.[13] Similarly, the head of an agency in charge of law enforcement, protective, emergency response, or military tactical vehicle fleets is only required to implement the goals of this order if it is practicable.[14] Shifting the makeup of the 650,000 federal fleet vehicles, along with the other environmentally friendly requirements laid out in this executive order, is expected to cut GHG emissions by 26 million metric tons by 2025, which is environmentally equivalent to taking almost 5.5 million cars out of circulation for a year.[15]

“By guaranteeing a market, albeit small, for alternative fuel vehicles, the federal government is providing another form of subsidy to vehicle manufacturers that can then justify further research and development of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles.”

An executive order is the ideal tool to implement such a measure (given the current political climate) because it can take advantage of our federalist system. Just as states can benefit from federalism by implementing their own experimental programs or policies, which allows other states and the federal government to see results prior to making a decision for other jurisdictions, the federal government can use the federal fleets as an experimental policy that states can learn from to see if they will implement the same for their fleets, or to implement a similar policy that further incentivizes owning alternative fuel vehicles. By guaranteeing a market, albeit small, for alternative fuel vehicles, the federal government is providing another form of subsidy to vehicle manufacturers that can then justify further research and development of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles. These manufacturers have less risk when not only is there a guaranteed market, but there is also a strong signal from the government that alternative fuel vehicles will become a large part of the transportation industry.

“The federal government can be a role model by taking the lead in making these changes.”

Having the federal government take a stronger position towards implementing clean energy can also set an example for private industry. Even though the general consensus is that burning greenhouse gases has significant negative effects on the environment, the costs of transitioning to cleaner technology has kept the private sector in the United States from making sufficient changes to slow down the harms of pollution. The federal government can be a role model by taking the lead in making these changes.

“History has shown that Congressional support for traditional energy industries is unlikely to waiver, and the clean energy laws currently in place have not done enough.”

Although Executive Order 13693 is a step in the right direction, the executive administration may want to consider implementing stricter requirements for incorporating alternative fuel vehicles into the federal fleets. History has shown that Congressional support for traditional energy industries is unlikely to waiver, and the clean energy laws currently in place have not done enough.[16] This leaves it up to the executive branch to take meaningful action in pursuit of a more energy independent and environmentally friendly nation. There is already a foundation for the technology and infrastructure necessary to accomplish meaningful results through private enterprises such as Tesla.[17] The United States, however, could further aid the efforts of these private companies by increasing incentives for other auto manufacturers.

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[1] Exec. Order No. 13,693, 80 F.R. 15871 (2015).

[2] Id. at § 3(g).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at §§ 7(e)-(f).

[9] Id. at § 10(a).

[10] Id. at § 12.

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at § 17(a).

[13] Id. at § 17(b).

[14] Id. at § 18(c).

[15] Press Release, White House Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Federal Government and Across the Supply Chain (Mar. 19, 2015) available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/19/fact-sheet-reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions-federal-government-and-acro.

[16] See Pilita Clark, Energy Companies Warned Against Building New Power Stations, Fin. Times (March 30, 2016), https://next.ft.com/content/11859a52-f5ea-11e5-96db-fc683b5e52db.

[17] See Austin Ramzy, Tesla Model 3 Orders Surge Even Before Its Unveiling, NY Times (April 1, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/02/business/international/tesla-model-3.html?hpw&rref=automobiles&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0.

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