Three environmental groups have filed suit in U.S. federal court to force 18 federal agencies to abide by a law passed in 1992 that requires federal departments to buy vehicles that run on alternative fuels as a way to reduce U.S. dependence on petroleum.SAN FRANCISCO, California, US, 2002-01-15 [SolarAccess.com] Ironically, the Energy Policy Act was supported by President George Bush in the wake of the Gulf War. The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund says government agencies with vehicle fleets in the larger cities should be buying alternative-fuel vehicles at the rate of 75 percent by now, and claims that they have failed abysmally. Among the defendants is the U.S. Department of Energy, the agency assigned to enforce the Act. Other defendants include the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network and Sierra Club in this suit. In signing the Act into law, former president Bush said the action “will place America upon a clear path toward a more prosperous, energy efficient, environmentally sensitive, and economically secure future.” Earthjustice says the federal government has strayed far afield from that path, and the lawsuit is an effort to force a return to the energy efficient and environmentally sensitive future. “It is truly startling to find such wholesale non-compliance with a federal statute whose purpose could not be more timely as we embark on a new round of debates over the current president’s proposed National Energy Policy,” says attorney Jay Tutchton. Congress passed the Act to promote environmental protection and national security by reducing oil consumption and boosting the use of domestic replacement fuels. The Act required the DOE to develop a plan to replace 10 percent of gas consumption with alternative fuels by 2000 and 30 percent by 2010. Under the Act, all federal agencies with qualifying vehicle fleets (those in larger cities) were required to purchase 25, 33, 50 and ultimately 75 percent alternative fuel vehicles during fiscal years 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. For the year 2000 and beyond, the requirement remains at 75 percent. Earthjustice says most federal agencies have not come close to meeting these levels. Department of Commerce purchased only 11 percent in 1998 and 17 percent in 2000, while EPA bought only 35 percent of alternative fuel vehicles in 1998. The Energy Policy Act further requires federal agencies to publicly submit annual compliance reports to Congress. “Using new technologies to clean up the air for our children’s health is what this law was designed to do,” says Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Why is the Bush administration pushing for more oil burning when federal law requires it to take the lead in a healthier direction?” “It’s outrageous that even when the federal government is legally required to reduce oil dependence, they can’t do it,” adds Russell Long of the Bluewater Network. “Their only policy is to buy oil, and that’s bad news for global warming and energy security, but good news for oil sheiks.” Loopholes allow departments to purchase vehicles that are capable of running on alternative fuels, but do not require the vehicles to use that fuel, claim the groups. They allege that some fleet managers have purchased vehicles that will run on either ethanol or gasoline, and use the latter. Earthjustice says the Act instructs DOE to consider extending the requirement for alternative fuel fleet to local governments and private operators such as municipal fleets and private shipping companies, if the federal government did not meet the Act’s goal of reducing gasoline use. DOE says it is working on such a rule, but has missed rulemaking deadlines contained within the Act . The lawsuit seeks compliance with the reporting and purchasing requirements of the Act as well as the overdue rulemaking for local government and private fleet operators.