GAO: Difference Between Policy & Practice on Alt. Fuels

John Davis

A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows there seems to be a disconnect between what the U.S. government’s policy is regarding using alternatively fueled vehicles and what the actual practices are.

This article from the Pittsburgh Business Times
says the GAO has found that decision makers are faced with “confusing and, at times, contradicting mandates” that end up prompting fleet managers to pick vehicles that work for the largest number of guidelines, instead of those that actually cut down on petroleum use and greenhouse gases:

Three federal laws and two executive orders set goals for buying alternative fuel and electric vehicles, and reducing oil consumption. More than 20 federal agencies play some role in implementing these goals.

The federal fleet has more than 600,000 vehicles, guzzles more than 963,000 gallons of oil daily and, during fiscal year 2009, spent about $1.9 billion on new vehicles.

The GAO focused on four specific conflicts:

Conflict 1: Increase the use of alternative fuels vs. the unavailability of alternative fuels.
“Agencies are required to increase alternative fuel use, although most alternative fuels are not yet widely available. Thus, agencies have been purchasing primarily flex-fueled AFVs, those that can operate on E85—a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and petroleum—or petroleum. However, since E85 was only available at 1 percent of U.S. fueling stations in 2009, agencies are requesting waivers from the requirement to use alternative fuels. According to DOE, in 2010, approximately 55 percent of flex-fueled AFVs received a waiver. Further, some fleet operators indicated they use petroleum without a waiver when alternative fuels are available because it is either more convenient, less expensive, or both.”

Conflict 2: Acquire AFVs vs. reduce petroleum consumption
“Agencies are required to purchase AFVs, but this requirement may, in some cases, undermine the requirement to reduce petroleum consumption. Virtually every agency has succeeded in acquiring more AFVs, but there have been only modest reductions in petroleum use and modest increases in alternative fuel use, due to the lack of available alternative fuels. As previously stated, the lack of available alternative fuels results in agencies using petroleum to fuel AFVs. In areas where alternative fuels are not available, purchasing more fuel efficient non-AFVs could reduce petroleum consumption more than purchasing AFVs.”

Conflict 3: Reduce GHG emissions vs. acquire AFVs
“Under existing law, according to DOE, some vehicles with the lowest GHG emissions do not qualify as AFVs; and according to GSA, some AFVs emit more GHG emissions than some petroleum-fueled vehicles. Thus, by procuring a new vehicle with low GHG emissions the agency may meet the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, but not the requirement to purchase AFVs for its fleet.”

Conflict 4: Use plug-in hybrid vehicles vs. reduce electricity consumption in federal facilities
“Other conflicts exist between fleet energy goals and the federal government energy goals. Agencies are encouraged to acquire plug-in hybrids for their fleets when they become publicly available; however, this could conflict with other requirements that encourage agencies to reduce electricity consumption in federal facilities. Thus, if an agency acquires plug-in vehicles they may meet the requirement, but this may lead to increased electricity consumption.”

The GAO recommends that laws need to be changed to that will help resolve these conflicts. You can read the GAO report, entitled “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” here.