Fuel Advantage: Making Sense of Mandates

Meeting alternative fuel mandates--easier said than done?


When the mayor of Fort Wayne, IN, ordered all his city department heads to “Go Green” in 2007, fleet manager Larry Campbell knew just what to do: Go into stealth mode.

Like hundreds of other government and utility fleet managers around the country in recent years, Campbell was suddenly faced with a mandate to clean up his vehicles without being told exactly how to do that. But Campbell had already given it a lot of thought, and he quickly responded by starting to use B20 biodiesel in the city’s heavy trucks, taking delivery of two hybrid vehicles and working with the city’s fuel vendor to put in an E85 ethanol pump for his 57 flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs), all without telling the mayor.

“I didn’t tell him, because if it failed and we had problems, I didn’t want his name out there,” Campbell explains. “And then we had an ozone day, and then I let him know that we’d been doing it for a month and a half and didn’t have any problems, and he threw his speech away and took my notes and said, ‘You’re standing here, because if there are questions, you’re answering them!’”

Fortunately for Campbell and for the city, there have been no problems, and as for the mayor, “He has realized how much the city fleet could do to help with the green initiative,” Campbell says wryly.

Of course, this approach won’t work for everyone, but it does serve to illustrate the fact that fleet managers who are under orders from their mayors, their city councils, their governors, their CEOs or Boards of Directors are now finding they have new options at their fingertips.

THE FIRST MANDATE

The situation has changed considerably since 1992, when the Environmental Protection Act (or EPAct) first mandated that federal fleets and utility fleets purchase alternative fuel vehicles, but fell short of requiring those fleets to actually use alternative fuels.

“At that time, NAFA (National Association of Fleet Administrators) vigorously told Congress that it did not make sense to mandate that fleets purchase vehicles and use fuels that would either be more costly or potentially not even available,” says Patrick O’Connor, NAFA’s U.S. Legislative Council, with law firm Kent & O’Connor. “Congress persisted, and one of the trade-offs was that they would require an acquisition mandate, but they would not require a fuel use mandate. The assumption was—and we told them at the time that the assumption was wrong—if the manufacturers build the vehicles, the fueling infrastructure would go into place.

“There was a lot of talk in 1992 about the cost advantage of using, say, natural gas,” O’Connor explains. “So the trade-off was, we’re going to make fleets acquire these vehicles, and that will drive the infrastructure.” But, he says, it didn’t pan out that way, pointing to the debacle of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, to illustrate his point: “Amoco was going to ring the beltway in Atlanta with CNG stations, and there were going to be thousands of CNG vehicles in Atlanta for the Olympics,” he says. But the CNG vehicles never materialized, and, “The end result was that Amoco built very few of the stations because there wasn’t the demand.”

According to O’Connor, the lack of an alternative fuel infrastructure can still hinder fleets that are trying to meet not only EPAct requirements, but new mandates that are being instituted on state and city levels across the country.

“Today, most of the (alt fuel) vehicles out there are FFVs, and in many states there is no ethanol available, or it is slowly coming online,” he explains. “The State of Pennsylvania has a large number of FFVs in their fleet, and as of a year ago there were no ethanol stations in Pennsylvania. The State of Washington’s university system has FFVs in their fleet, but no ethanol available in the state. At one point you could have purchased CNG autos, but there’s only one CNG auto configuration available today.”

ACT LOCALLY

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