GAO finds agencies using oil products to fuel AFVs

Federal government agencies are meeting requirements to acquire alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), but they currently are running them on petroleum products, the US Government Accountability Office said Oct. 23.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 27 -- Federal government agencies are meeting requirements to acquire alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), but they currently are running them on petroleum products, the US Government Accountability Office said Oct. 23.

"As they have over the past 4 years, agencies will likely continue to acquire the mandated percentage of AFVs. However, they will likely find it more difficult to meet both the requirement to fuel AFVs only with alternative fuel and the goal of increasing alternative fuel use by 10%/year because of the limited availability of alternative fuels," GAO said in a report.

The congressional government watchdog service examined 21 agencies and their vehicle fleets, which were trying to meet energy objectives for fiscal 2007. It found that all of the agencies satisfied a requirement under the 2002 Energy Policy Act that AFVs account for 75% of new light-duty acquisitions for fleets of 20 or more vehicles in metropolitan statistical areas with populations of 250,000 or more.

But it also found that none of the 21 agencies were solely using an alternative fuel in their AFVs as mandated by the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The law gives the US Department of Energy authority to waive the requirement if it determines that operating on alternative fuel is not feasible. DOE defines this as alternative fuel not being available within 5 miles or 15 minutes, or if it costs 15% more than gasoline, GAO said.

"To help agencies more effectively use their resources to increase use of alternative fuel and decrease use of petroleum, Congress should consider aligning the federal fleet AFV acquisition and fueling requirements with current alternative fuel availability and revising those requirements as appropriate," it said.

A mixed record
GAO also examined the agencies' compliance during fiscal 2007 with three goals established under Executive Order 13423, which US President George W. Bush issued on Jan. 24, 2007. It found that 11 of the 21 agencies, or 52%, increased overall alternative fuel by at least 10%/year, relative to the 2005 baseline. It said 14 of the agencies, or 67%, were reducing petroleum consumption by 2% annually relative to the 2005 baseline. Finally, said GAO, none of the agencies were acquiring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles because they were not available yet.

"It is unclear whether agencies will be able to reduce petroleum consumption annually by 2% in the near future, primarily because they will not be able to rely on alternative fuel to displace significant amounts of petroleum fuel," the report said.

"Furthermore, without better data, it will be difficult to judge agencies' progress in increasing alternative fuel use and reducing petroleum consumption. Some agencies have taken steps to address these issues and improve data quality, but with limited success," it continued.

GAO recommended that agencies no longer be allowed to count AFV acquisitions that are not subject to the requirement, creating a false impression that the agencies are greatly exceeding the requirement. It also urged that the president require the US Sec. Of Energy to report annually on agencies' compliance with EPACT's alternative fueling requirement. The president should order the Sec. of Energy and the General Services Administration administrator to continue ongoing efforts to resolve data quality issues in these areas.

GAO's report came in response to a request by US Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and two of its members, Mark L. Pryor (D-Ark.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) for an evaluation of the extent to which the agencies met their alternative fuel vehicle requirements during fiscal 2007, and of their prospects for meeting the objectives in the future.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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