State Requirements Boost the Transition to Alternative Fuel Vehicle Fleets

State government fleets nationwide have operated alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) for years, meeting mandates set by the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 1992 and subsequent actions. More recently, states have seen a resurgence in the push for alternative fuels to save money, conserve energy resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many state governments are working together under multi-state agreements, such as those related to natural gas and zero emission vehicles, pledging to lead by example. Demonstrating the feasibility of AFVs, state fleet vehicles operate increasingly on alternative fuels, often working to increase the availability of alternative fuel infrastructure. During 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, multiple states enacted legislation to increase fleet acquisition and use of AFVs.

The EPAct State and Alternative Fuel Provider Fleet Program works to reduce petroleum consumption through increased use of AFVs by certain state and alternative fuel providers. Several amendments to EPAct have increased flexibility for covered fleets to achieve compliance, in part by allowing these fleets to choose between one of two compliance methods – Standard Compliance, which requires covered fleets to acquire AFVs, and Alternative Compliance, in which a covered fleet reduces petroleum consumption through other means. Not all state fleets or vehicles are required to comply with EPAct, yet recent trends indicate states are voluntarily creating AFV standards that are frequently more rigorous than the federal EPAct AFV acquisition and alternative fuel use requirements.

As alternative fuel technology advances and the next generation of electric-drive vehicle technologies enter the market, state fleets have more vehicle acquisition options than ever before. Several states expanded their AFV fleet requirements to incorporate additional fuels and technologies.

The Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) provides a searchable database of state and federal incentives, laws, and regulations related to alternative fuels and vehicles, air quality, vehicle efficiency, and other transportation-related topics. The Laws and Incentives website also includes representative examples of incentives and regulations at the local level.

The quarterly feature provides Clean Cities coalitions and other interested stakeholders with information and trends related to state incentives, laws, and regulations promulgated or otherwise enacted.

For example, since 2007 Illinois has required gas-powered state vehicles to be either flex-fuel or hybrid vehicles, however, the updated Illinois law requires 25% of vehicles purchased after January 1, 2016, (with some exceptions) to operate on compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), propane, or electricity. This expansion will allow state agencies to diversify their fleets while maintaining their petroleum reduction policies.

Though the Wyoming state fleet is not subject to EPAct requirements, Wyoming law requires 50% of all state agency, college, and university vehicle purchases to be dedicated or bi-fuel CNG vehicles. Exceptions apply, and the governor has the authority to waive these requirements, for example if there is no available fueling infrastructure.

Similarly, as of 2014 Minnesota state agencies must acquire vehicles capable of using cleaner fuels, which include electricity and CNG; the latter is a new addition to the list of qualified fuels. The same enacting legislation also eliminates the previous mandate that exempted agencies from purchasing AFVs if vehicle cost was higher than the price of traditional gasoline vehicles. Instead, state agencies are required to purchase AFVs as long as they have the same life-cycle cost as conventional vehicles.

In 2014, North Carolina made permanent a petroleum displacement trial that was to end in 2016, indefinitely extending the use of AFVs and low-emission vehicles in state fleets. Originally, state fleets had been restricted to a 20% AFV implementation requirement.

New legislative committees, working groups, and energy plans highlighting vehicle fuel use are driving some states to review their AFV requirements. Public concern over energy availability and cost, as well as new federal emissions requirements, have led state fleets, energy offices, and transportation departments to partner with public and private entities to look more closely at their energy portfolios. This has resulted in task forces that draft state energy plans, offering suggestions on new and updated AFV legislation relevant to state fleets.

Alabama has recently seen this connection between fleet management, state working groups, and legislative updates as well, with Executive Order 38 creating a state fleet manager in 2013. The fleet manager is responsible for holding all state departments accountable to Alabama's Green Fleets Policy, which requires a 4% increase in average fleet fuel economy for light-duty vehicles, a 3% increase in average fleet fuel economy for medium-duty vehicles, and a 2% increase in average fleet fuel economy for heavy-duty vehicles per fiscal year. The fleet manager will work closely with the public-private Green Fleet Review Committee to make AFV-related recommendations to each state department for improvements necessary to meet these goals.

A Washington state working group created in 2013 produced a GHG reduction plan, calling for increased alternative fuels and emissions reduction requirements for the state fleet. Concurrently, Washington requires updated reports on planned requirements for all state vehicles to operate on 100% biofuels or electricity by June 1, 2015, so that the state can evaluate the fleet progress against the goals of the 2013 plan.

State governments will continue to serve as leaders in AFV adoption and infrastructure development. Innovative and cooperative efforts such as initiating working groups, evaluating deployment in other states, and participating in multi-party partnerships are examples of innovative methods that will drive legislation and executive actions requiring updated state policies on AFV use.

For more information about the laws and initiatives discussed here, refer to the Alternative Fuels Data Center's Laws and Incentives website.