Federal Fleet Again to Become Guinea Pig for Alternative Vehicles

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Among the long list of announced climate-related measures, the Biden administration has set a goal of “clean and zero-emission vehicles for Federal, State, local, and Tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service.” Many hailed this as a major step forward for electric vehicles (EVs), though others noted that the administration’s further demands that federally owned vehicles be made in America and by unionized labor disqualifies most currently-available EVs. But even if there were such EVs ready for purchase, history shows that making them the preferred choice for government is unlikely to rub off on consumers.

Using the federal fleet as a guinea pig to appease environmental activists—along with rent-seeking makers of alternative fuels and vehicles—is hardly new. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and the 2000 Executive Order 13149, entitled “Greening the Government Through Federal Fleet and Transportation Efficiency,” had similar provisions. The hot new alternative at the time was E-85 vehicles (designed to run on gasoline blends containing up to 85 percent corn ethanol) and, to a lesser extent, natural gas and biodiesel vehicles.

These alternatives were not catching on with the driving public, and the federal government learned the hard way why this was so. A government review of the program found that some federal agencies were doing better than others in meeting the goal, and that most fell well short. Among the problems were higher sticker prices, difficulty obtaining the fuel, and maintenance issues.

Fast forward to 2021, and the only thing that has changed is that the alternative du jour is now an EV. Of course, it is one thing when federal agencies are using taxpayer dollars to buy and operate vehicles, and quite another when consumers have to do so. The Biden administration may not mind the higher cost of EVs, or the added inconvenience of refueling them, or the high cost of replacing the battery after eight years, but the 97 percent of new car buyers that avoid them apparently do.