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President Obama Issues Executive Order on Federal Sustainability

On March 18, President Obama issued a new Executive Order, “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade,” an order that establishes a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025.  The order focuses mostly on efficiency, renewable fuel use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and covers federal energy use at federal installations and federal motor vehicle fleets, among other things.

Federal fleets are instructed to take actions to eliminate unnecessary vehicles and to reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions as measured against 2014 levels as follows:  4 percent by 2017, 15 percent by 2021, and 30 percent by 2025.  Federal agencies also are instructed to acquire electric and plug-in electric vehicles when purchasing passenger vehicles, defined as sedans or station wagons, with a requirement that electric and plug-in electrics make up 20 and 50 percent of passenger vehicle purchases in 2020 and 2025, respectively. The directive also provides that the purchase of electric vehicles that replace other classes of vehicles shall earn double credit in meeting the fleet obligations.  It will be interesting to see how federal agencies manage to come up with the additional funds necessary to pay for EVs, particularly since the current Congress is unlikely to want to fund them, and President Obama’s term ends in less than 2 years.

An important point to consider is that fact that the order revokes EO 13423, which set out aggressive targets for reducing petroleum consumption (20 percent by 2015) and increasing alternative fuel use (10 percent increase in use by 2015 from 2005).  While EO 13423 only extended to 2015, it is perhaps noteworthy that the new EO does not directly address petroleum reductions or alternative fuel use levels.  This raises the question as to whether these goals are no longer a top priority.  It is also noteworthy that the order revokes the May 2011 Memorandum on Federal Fleet Performance that required by the end of 2015 that alternative fuel vehicles make up 100 percent of federal agency purchases of light duty vehicles.

Federal agencies nonetheless are still required by federal law (EPAct 1992) to purchase alternative fuel vehicles and must use alternative fuel in those vehicles unless they receive a waiver.  And the EO does include a more expansive role for alternative fuel vehicles other than electric and plug-in vehicles elsewhere in the directive.  Specifically, a section on regional coordination instructs the EPA and GSA to lead an effort to identify opportunities with DOD and other agencies to share alternative fueling infrastructure, including compressed natural gas stations, to support adoption and use of alternative fuel vehicles.  Another section directs the U.S. DOE to work with the USPS to evaluate alternative and advanced fuel technologies for the USPS fleet.

Another area of potential significance for natural gas vehicles is the requirement to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions related to “delivery and transportation services” and another provision that calls for working groups to among other things make recommendations for addressing emissions associated with “Federal freight and cargo.”  Both of these items would appear to create an opportunity to focus federal attention on using natural gas in heavy duty truck operations and also in buses operated by federal fleets.

The EO is available here.