Facing some of the most intractable foreign policy situations of his term, President Barack Obama is looking inward. In a major speech on March 30th, Obama outlined his plan to reduce oil imports by a third over the next decade and a half while transitioning the federal government to an all-alternative-fuel vehicle fleet by 2014.
But that isn’t all. Unrest in the Middle East and spiking oil prices prompted Obama to order increased fuel standards for passenger cars and heavy trucks - aiming for more than 36 miles per gallon by 2016. Bringing fuel efficiency to heavy trucks is a sustained focus for Obama, with the new initiative coming less than a year after his May 2010 directive ordering 35mpg truck efficiency by 2025.
Obama’s charge to buy 650,000 electric and alternative is far more ambitious than previous directives, such as last autumn’s General Services Administration order of 100 electric vehicles, which amounts to less than a fraction of one percent of the federal fleet. Obama’s new push provides a much needed jolt to the mostly fossil fuel fleet.
With the average passenger vehicle producing 6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, replacing the government fleet with alternative fuels could cut nearly 4 million tons of GHGs, almost as much pollution as Iraq produces in a year. This marks the most aggressive push to green the government in history.
What’s more, Obama’s initiative gives a much-needed boost to the American electric car market. Nissan sold only 67 of its electric Leafs in February, after an initial production run of 19,000 vehicles. That’s hardly electrifying. The federal government has market-making power, and electric vehicles need a market. Much like the early days of the Internet, government may have to prime the sustainable car market.
Previous presidents have declared an end to foreign oil, only to see progress stymied by the American lust for transportation. Unable to produce a budget and bogged down by the third American military operation in a decade, can Barack Obama green the government’s wheels?