FleetSpeak

Fleet Greening in Trump's America

January 16, 2017

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

In November, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, and it has become clear his agenda on the environment is vastly different from President Obama’s.

The Obama administration encouraged the expansion of alternative fuels, providing rebates for cleaner vehicles, offering grants to advance alternative-fuel technologies, and mandating that federal fleets must purchase zero-emission vehicles.

Between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. General Services Administration reported that the number of ­gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles in the federal fleet had decreased, while the number of gasoline hybrids and E-85 vehicles had increased. These are the top four vehicle types in the federal fleet, consisting of more than 640,000 vehicles.

The First 100 Days

In contrast, Trump announced in his first 100 days he would, among other actions, (1) cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs; and (2) cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum, and order issued by President Obama. The first step, in addition to appointing a climate-change skeptic to head the Environmental Protection Agency, sets the tone for what’s to come. The second step will most likely affect the federal fleet, depending on how Trump defines “unconstitutional” — in 2015, Obama issued an executive order for sustainability, which includes a call for federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicles and change fleet composition to include zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if federal fleet managers are relieved if this fleet greening mandate gets canceled. While fleet greening is something every fleet, public or private, likes to publicize, a mandate coming from above often doesn’t take into consideration instances when this is a nearly impossible task. But although it may make fleet managers’ jobs easier, I wonder what the long-term effects of canceling this order may be.

Meanwhile, mayors throughout the U.S. pledged to continue their efforts to combat climate change, with 48 of them signing an open letter to Trump asking for his support in their efforts. In November, eight countries, including the United States, signed an agreement to increase the share of low-emission vehicles in their government fleets.

Expect More Talk About Economics

In an early December webinar about Trump’s impact on the alternative-fuel industry, Washington policy experts representing different fuels — natural gas, electric, propane autogas, and biodiesel — were trying to remain optimistic. They expect uncertainty — Trump’s stance has evolved and continues to evolve, so it’s unclear what he’ll end up doing. But they said that whatever he decides, it won’t be catastrophic for alternative fuels.

There was a consensus that we should all prepare for different messaging regarding alternative energy. That is, less talk about emissions reduction and more about how these fuels are creating jobs, contributing to economic growth, and adding value to the American economy.

Trump has pledged to lift restrictions on the production of “American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas, and clean coal.” That sounds like it could be good news for the natural gas industry. The biodiesel representatives stated that Trump was very supportive of biodiesel, and electric vehicle advocates will be arguing that modern infrastructure needs to take into consideration advanced-technology vehicles.

These alt-fuel representatives talked about how their strategies will change in preparation for the new administration, but it’s clear that the industry has lost an advocate with Trump’s election. When asked about their opinions on the appointment of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, there was a long silence.

How do you think Trump’s presidency will affect fleet adoption of alternative fuels?

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Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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