In ruling on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, Federal District Court Judge William Alsup has found that nearly every cabinet level agency in the U.S. Government has violated the Energy Policy Act of 1992 by failing to buy or lease the legally required percentages of Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) for their federal fleets. The lawsuit was brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network, and Sierra Club.
The Energy Policy Act, signed into law after the Gulf War by George Bush I in 1992, was designed to wean 10% of American transportation fuel demand from petroleum by the year 2000 and 30% by 2010. The Act requires all federal agencies with light duty fleet vehicles in major metropolitan areas to acquire at least 75% Alternative Fuel Vehicles each year instead of traditional petroleum-fueled cars and trucks. The federal government currently has over 600,000 vehicles in its fleet, the largest in the nation. Judge Alsup declared that all defendant federal agencies violated the Act’s AFV-acquisition requirements in at least some years.
Judge Alsup also found that all the defendant federal agencies have further violated the Energy Policy Act by failing to disclose to the public through annual compliance reports whether they had acquired the legally required numbers of AFVs. Agencies covered by this ruling include: Departments of Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, Agriculture, Justice, Labor, and State, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, and NASA.
“This is a major victory for anyone who believes this nation’s transportation system is dangerously addicted to petroleum including, it seems, President Bush’s father. Hopefully the federal government will finally get with the program,” said Jay Tutchton, staff attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represented the plaintiffs in the suit.
Judge Alsup ordered the government to prepare overdue reports of their non-compliance with the law by November 26, 2002, and to make these reports available to the public over the Internet by January 31, 2003.
In these compliance reports, which defendants illegally withheld, every federal agency must not only admit its prior failings to acquire the legally required number of AFVs, but also must submit a specific plan, including dates, by which it will come into compliance with the law.
“These compliance plans and reports will finally set enforceable deadlines,” said Tutchton. “Maybe now Bush II can enforce his father’s law.”
The Energy Policy Act also requires the Department of Energy to consider a regulation to extend the AFV acquisition requirements to private and municipal fleets in major metropolitan areas, which it has failed to do. Judge Alsup ordered both sides to provide further briefing on how long the court should give the Department of Energy to take action on the overdue regulation.
“AFVs are available on the market. The federal government has no excuse for not following the law. Hopefully by exposing the failings of the government we can re-direct the current national energy plan away from a drill-and-despoil mantra and toward cleaner future,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Environmentalists concerned about air pollution have long touted alternative fuel vehicles. “AFVs are cleaner than traditional vehicles. Burning alternative fuels as opposed to gasoline will lessen the toxic chemicals currently spewing from our tailpipes, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution — the main culprit behind global warming,” said Elisa Lynch of Bluewater Network.
“The U.S. buys more than a half-million barrels of oil a day from Iraq,” said Daniel Becker, director of Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy program. “Instead we should be using alternative fuels and increasing the fuel economy of our cars, trucks and SUVs. It’s crucial that the Administration stop breaking this law because it moves us closer to reducing our dependence on oil.”