Three environmental organizations filed suit in federal court today to force 18 federal agencies to abide by a law passed in 1992 and supported enthusiastically by the first President Bush. The law -- the Energy Policy Act, passed in the wake of the Gulf War -- requires federal agencies to buy vehicles that run on alternative fuels as a way to reduce the country's dependence on petroleum. The agencies with vehicle fleets in the larger cities should be buying alternative-fuel vehicles at the rate of 75 % by now. They've failed abysmally. Principal among the defendants is the U.S. Department of Energy, the very agency assigned to enforce the act. Other defendants include the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture, Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network and the Sierra Club in this suit.
In signing the act into law, former president George Bush stated: "My action today will place America upon a clear path toward a more prosperous, energy efficient, environmentally sensitive, and economically secure future." Sadly, the federal government has strayed far afield from the former President Bush's "clear path." This lawsuit is an effort to force a return to the more "energy efficient, environmentally sensitive, and economically secure future" envisioned by Congress when it drafted the act and the President when he signed it into law.
"It is truly startling to find such wholesale non-compliance with a federal statute whose purpose could not be more timely as we embark on a new round of debates over the current President Bush's proposed National Energy Policy," said Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton.
Congress passed the act to promote national security and environmental protection by reducing oil consumption and boosting the use of domestic replacement fuels. The act required the Department of Energy to develop and oversee a plan to replace 10 percent of U.S. gas consumption with alternative fuels by the year 2000 and 30 percent by 2010. It is no secret that the year 2000 goal was not met. This failure is largely attributable to the federal government's failure to comply with the Energy Policy Act's requirements.
Under the act, all federal agencies with qualifying vehicle fleets (those in larger cities) were required to purchase 25%, 33%, 50% and ultimately 75% alternative fuel vehicles during fiscal years 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. For the year 2000 and beyond, the requirement remains at 75%. Most federal agencies have not come close to meeting these minimums. For example, the Department of Commerce purchased only 11% alternative fuel vehicles in 1998, 16% in 1999 and 17% in 2000. Other defendants' compliance is similarly far short of the mark. Even the EPA purchased only 35% alternative fuel vehicles in 1998 -- only a fraction of the Act's 50% requirement.
The Energy Policy Act further requires federal government agencies to publicly submit annual compliance reports to Congress as well as publish them in the Federal Register and post them on the Internet, which they have not done. If they did, the public scrutiny encouraged by these reporting requirements would reveal the agencies' glaring non-compliance with the act.
"Using new technologies to clean up the air for our children's health is what this law was designed to do. Why is the Bush administration pushing for more oil burning when federal law requires it to take the lead in a healthier direction?" asked Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity.
"It's outrageous that even when the federal government is legally required to reduce oil dependence, they can't do it. Their only policy is to buy oil, and that's bad news for global warming and energy security, but good news for oil sheiks," said Russell Long, Executive Director, Bluewater Network.
Loopholes within the Act allow federal fleet operators to purchase vehicles that are alternative fuel capable, but do not require the vehicles to actually run on the alternative fuel. Consequently, some fleet managers have purchased vehicles that will run on either gasoline or ethanol and then proceeded to run them on gasoline, completely thwarting the act's goal of reducing petroleum use and in violation of a 2000 Presidential Executive Order.
The act further instructed the Department of Energy to consider extending the alternative fuel fleet provisions to local government and private fleet operators such as municipal fleets and private shipping companies if the federal government did not meet the act's goal of reducing gasoline use. The Department of Energy states that it is working on such a rule, but has missed deadlines contained within the act for this rulemaking by years.
Today's lawsuit seeks compliance with the reporting and purchasing requirements of the Act as well as the overdue rulemaking for local government and private fleet operators.