Friday, December 19th, 2014

The Obameter

Require more flex-fuel cars for the federal government


"Government should lead the way here. I showed up at this event in a government vehicle that does not have a flexible-fuel tank. When I'm president, I will make sure that every vehicle purchased by the federal government does."


Updates

Federal government's flex fuel vehicle purchases actually down since 2009

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said, "When I'm president, I will make sure that every vehicle purchased by the federal government" has a flexible-fuel tank.

Flexible fuel vehicles are designed to run either on gasoline or on a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol, a format known as E85. Beyond a few mechanical modifications, flex-fuel vehicles are identical to gasoline-only models.

Here's a chart showing vehicle acquisitions by fuel type between 2006 and 2010, published by the General Services Administration, the federal office that oversees the federal vehicle fleet. Numbers for 2011 are not yet available.

Fuel Type    

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

Gasoline

37,242

32,089

30,376

31,782

26,547

Diesel

6,809

5,809

5,897

4,742

4,136

Gasoline Hybrid     

516

458

531

3,959 

4,853

Diesel Hybrid     

0

4

0

4

27

Compressed Natural Gas

243

129

123

77

60

E85 (ethanol)

18,168

26,581

27,792

27,850

26,789

Electric

0

7

6

7

1,376

Hydrogen

0

0

1

1

4

Liquefied Petroleum Gas

0

4

3

23

2

TOTAL

62,978      

65,081      

64,729      

68,445      

63,794

 

The chart shows that 41 percent of federal vehicle purchases in 2010 were for E85 vehicles. That's clearly not "every vehicle,” as Obama had promised. And while it does represent an notable increase compared to five years earlier, it's actually a slight decrease in percentage terms compared to 2008, the year before Obama took office. The absolute number of E85 cars also dropped between 2009 and 2010, according to the data.

The market for E85 -- already challenging due to limited numbers of fuel pumps -- could deteriorate further with the expiration of a federal tax credit for ethanol at the start of this year. "Without the 38-cent-per-gallon subsidy that went away Jan. 1, E85 prices are moving up,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. "It's still cheaper than gasoline, but the shrinking difference may not be enough to compensate drivers who get fewer miles per gallon because of the fuel's lower energy content.”

The vehicle-purchase numbers look more favorable to Obama if you add together all types of vehicles that aren't traditional gasoline or diesel. In 2008, alternative-fuel vehicles collectively accounted for 44 percent. In 2010, that number rose to nearly 52 percent.

So Obama has made gains in boosting federal purchases of alternative-fuel vehicles, but on the specific promise he made -- "when I'm president, I will make sure that every vehicle purchased by the federal government" has a flexible-fuel tank  -- the numbers show that he's nowhere near bringing it to completion. We rate this a Promise Broken.

Sources:

Fueleconomy.gov, flexible fuel vehicles information page, accessed Feb. 7. 2011

General Services Administration, Federal Fleet Report, 2010

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "The road for E85 fuel just got rougher," Jan. 8, 2012

White House officials are working on it

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama said he would lead by example when it comes to environmental stewardship.
 
Case in point: Obama promised that the government would use more flex-fuel cars under his administration.
 
We've already tackled similar promises. For example, Obama promised that by 2012, half of all cars purchased by the federal government would be plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles. We rated this promise In the Works because the stimulus bill included $300 million to buy more "high efficiency motor vehicles" for the federal fleet. That includes hybrids, hybrid plug-ins and all-electric cars.
 
Additionally, we looked at Obama's promise to mandate flexible fuel vehicles by 2012, which we also rated In the Works because legislation pending in Congress would advance Obama's goal.
 
And then there was Obama's promise to require a plug-in hybrid fleet at the White House within a year of taking office, which has Stalled largely because the technology for plug-in hybrids hasn't developed enough to be a safe and cost-effective method of transporting the president.
 
The White House told us it's working on Obama's promise to require more flex-fuel cars -- vehicles that can run on regular gasoline or a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol -- in the federal government. We were pointed to a statement the White House made on the plug-in hybrid promise. Here's what it said:
 
"We are currently in the process of updating the fleet and we"re making every effort to make as much of the fleet as green as possible," a White House official told PolitiFact. "The Environmental Protection Agency has been involved in these conversations."
 
So, the bottom line is that the administration is working on updating its fleet at the White House and within the federal government. We'll move this promise to In the Works as a result.

Sources: