WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden, who describes himself as a “car guy,” often promises to lead by example on climate change by moving quickly to convert the sprawling US government fleet to zero-emission electric vehicles . But efforts to eliminate gas-powered vehicles from the fleet have lagged.
Last year, Biden ordered the US government to buy only US-made zero-emission passenger cars by 2027 and electric versions of other vehicles by 2035.
“We’re going to harness the buying power of the federal government to buy clean, zero-emission vehicles,” the president said shortly after his inauguration in January 2021. Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 electric pickup truck or driving GM’s Cadillac Lyriq electric SUV at the Detroit auto show – to promote their potential. Cabinet officials have peddled an initial set of Ford Mustang Mach-E SUVs used in the Departments of Energy and Transportation.
The White House frequently describes the 2027 timeline as being on track. But the General Services Administration, the agency that buys two-thirds of the federal fleet of 656,000 vehicles, says there are no guarantees.
Then there’s the US Postal Service, which owns the remaining third of the federal fleet. After initially hesitating and facing legal action, the agency now says half of its initial purchase of 50,000 next-generation vehicles will be powered by electricity. The first set of postal vehicles will hit delivery routes late next year.
Climate advocates say the agency can do even better.
“The USPS should now go all-electric or nearly all-electric with its new vehicles,” said Luke Tonachel, senior director of clean vehicles and buildings at the Natural Resources Defense Council, citing an additional $3 billion in targeted federal spending to the postal fleet. under the landmark climate law that Biden signed last month.
About 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States come from the transportation sector, making it the largest source of global warming emissions in the country.
Electrifying the federal fleet is a “cornerstone” of Biden’s efforts to decarbonize the federal government, said Andrew Mayock, federal director of sustainability at the White House.
“The future is electric, and the federal government has built a solid foundation…that will allow us to realize this journey that we are on over the next decade,” he said in an interview.
Excluding the Postal Service, about 13% of new light-duty vehicles purchased across government this year, or about 3,550, were “zero emissions,” according to administration figures provided to The Associated Press. The government defines zero emissions as electric or plug-in hybrid, which technically has a gasoline engine. This compares to just under 2% for fiscal year 2021 and under 1% in 2020.
Nationally, about 6% of new car sales are electric.
When it comes to vehicles actually on the road, the federal numbers are even smaller. Many purchases from the past few months will not be delivered for a year due to supply chain issues.
Currently, only 1,799 of the 656,000 vehicles in the federal fleet are zero-emission vehicles.
At 35,000 to 50,000 GSA cars purchased per year, it will take years, if not decades, to convert the entire fleet.
“It hasn’t exactly been a quick start,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior mobility analyst for Guidehouse Insight. “It’s going to be difficult for them probably for at least a year or two to really pick up that pace.”
Christina S. Kingsland, who leads the Business Management Division for the Federal Fleet at the GSA, said “the Federal Fleet is a working fleet.”
The agency pointed to a limited supply of electric vehicles from automakers with significant upfront costs. Further, he said agency needs are often highly specialized, from Department of the Interior pickup trucks on large rural tribal reservations to large Department of Homeland Security SUVs along the U.S. border.
Agencies also need easy access to public electric vehicle charging stations. The White House has acknowledged that the agencies are “far behind” on their own charging infrastructure, with about 600 charging stations and 2,000 chargers in total nationwide.
While Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act provides states with $7.5 billion to build an electric vehicle charging network of up to 500,000 chargers over multiple years along interstate highways, no money from this law was only earmarked for the specialized needs of federal agencies. Money for charging stations must be allocated in the budget of each department.
Meeting Biden’s target for the federal fleet hinges on the industry ramping up production as expected from 2025 and 2026, analysts said. At that time, the effects of big federal investments to build public chargers and boost manufacturing of electric vehicles in the United States will likely be felt alongside tougher rules for automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions. .
GM, for example, has set an annual production capacity target of 1 million electric vehicles worldwide by 2025, while Ford plans to manufacture 2 million electric vehicles worldwide by 2026. Stellantis is also increasing its production capacity and preparing to launch a whole series of new EVs.
The White House declined to set a specific target for EV purchases in 2023, but Mayock said he expects that number to be above 13%.
Although the Postal Service is an independent agency, it plays a vital role in electrifying the fleet, not only because it has 234,000 vehicles in the federal fleet, but also because the familiar blue-and-white mail trucks are by far the most visible federal vehicle. , rolling in neighborhoods across America every day.
The agency plans to buy up to 165,000 next-generation vehicles over a decade. The Postal Service remains “committed to reducing our carbon footprint in many areas of our operations and expanding the use of electric vehicles in our fleet is a priority,” spokesperson Kim Frum said.
White House officials say government purchases of electric vehicles can only increase exponentially from a near-zero baseline a few years ago under President Donald Trump, who sought to ease safety requirements. fuel economy for gasoline-powered vehicles and proposed eliminating a federal tax credit for electric cars. .
At a recent electric vehicle demonstration at a federal law enforcement training facility outside of Washington, officers tested equipped electric vehicles for police use, including the Ford Mustang Mach- E. Officers were impressed with the acceleration and “handling” of the electric vehicle, Mayock said, calling the test drives a “great change management moment” for the government.
Sharp reported from Portland, Maine. AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage on electric vehicles at https://apnews.com/hub/electric-vehicles
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