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February 04, 2014

Federal Fleet Vehicles: Driving Efficiency, But Not Fast Enough

Imagine pumping 400 million gallons of fuel for your cars over the course of a year. That's roughly twice the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by BP in 2010. That's also the amount of fuel the federal government used in 2012. A new report by the General Services Administration shows that federal fleets are falling well short of goals set by President Obama to reduce oil consumption and shift to advanced vehicles.

In the Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign, we are pushing large fleets to reduce their oil consumption and stop using dirty and dangerous tar sands oil wherever possible. As the largest single fleet operator in the country, the federal government has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation in reducing our dependence on oil. In a 2009 executive order, President Obama set a goal of reducing oil use in the federal fleet 30 percent by 2020, and outlined more specific guidelines for federal fleet managers in a 2011 presidential memorandum.

In 2012 the federal government managed more than 650,000 vehicles around the world -- roughly split in thirds among military vehicles, civilian agency vehicles, and the US Postal Service fleet. According to the GSA report, vehicles in the federal fleet drove more than five billion miles, consumed nearly 400 million gallons of fuel and incurred operating costs of $4 billion. While this represents a reduction in fuel use of five percent from 2011 to 2012, the federal fleet has only reduced oil use a total of three percent since 2005.

A closer look at the numbers reveals several interesting trends. The military has aggressively moved to reduce oil use in its vehicles, shedding five percent of its vehicles from 2011 to 2012, and reducing oil use ten percent compared with the previous year alone. These actions saved the military billions, reducing operating costs by more than five percent in just one year.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the US Postal Service. While the Postal Service did reduce the numbers of miles driven by its vehicles by 4.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, its fleet operating costs increased slightly, and it lagged behind the military and other civilian agencies, only reducing oil use by 2.5 percent.

The Postal Service fleet must operate nationwide in tough conditions; however, there are significant opportunities for using less oil and saving money. Currently, Postal Service delivery trucks achieve around 10 miles per gallon. A 2009 Postal Service analysis found that electric vehicles could cut maintenance costs substantially, and that fuel costs could be reduced from 33 cents a mile to five cents a mile by switching from gas to electricity. Just this week, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Representative Connolly (D-VA) introduced the FLEET Act, a bill that would require the Postal Service to reduce oil use two percent each year through 2025.

It is encouraging to see federal fleets taking important strides to reduce oil use.  However, more action is needed to meet the ambitious goals set by President Obama. It is critical that the government continue to transition to advanced vehicles, such as plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, and show leadership in reducing our dependence on oil.

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program


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