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December 2, 2013 4:00 AM, EST

Opinion: GSA Opts for Clean-Fueled Vendors

This Opinion piece appears in the Dec. 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

By Warren Lavey

Senior Regulatory Counsel

and Brian Skretny

Director of Clean Transportation Programs

American Clean Skies Foundation

The United States wants to do business with truck fleets that are more fuel-efficient, better for the environment and cheaper to operate.

That’s the message sent by the Obama administration in a recently released draft Statement of Objectives for a new governmentwide package-delivery contract, known as Domestic Delivery Services 3, that is being managed by the U.S. General Services Administration.

“It is the government’s intent to reduce as far as practicable the environmental impacts of services provided under this contract,” Transport Topics quoted GSA as saying (“GSA May Tie Emissions to Large U.S. Parcel Pact.”)

It’s a historic decision on a contract that could be worth up to $1.5 billion over five years and should provide lasting value for the government, taxpayers and private-sector shippers. If GSA stays on course, the DDS3 solicitation will mark a milestone for the federal government, with GSA comparing potential transport vendors based not only on price but also on their annual targets for fuel efficiency, greenhouse-gas intensity, alternative-fuel use and other environmental measures.

We think these criteria in government solicitations are long overdue. After all, federal energy laws and presidential executive orders dating from the 1990s have required federal agencies to “lead by example” in reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and meeting an increasingly stringent set of environmental objectives in carrying out their operations.

President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance requires every agency to adopt a sustainability plan with annual performance targets for reduced emissions and petroleum use and to ensure that their vendors are energy-efficient and environmentally preferable.

Our organization, the nonprofit American Clean Skies Foundation, has addressed these long-standing legal mandates and called on the federal government to direct an increasing volume of federal transportation spending to vendors who use less oil, reduce harmful emissions and deploy cleaner alternative-fuel vehicles.

Citing success stories from states and the private sector, we also detailed the significant cost savings this investment could deliver to Uncle Sam, given that the federal government estimates it spends about $150 billion every year on direct and indirect procurements of third-party transportation services.

By preferring vendors committed to using less petroleum and producing fewer emissions, federal contracts could reduce oil imports by billions of gallons annually, cut greenhouse-gas pollution by more than 20 million metric tons a year and stimulate industry purchases of tens of thousands of new alternative-fuel vehicles.

Just as important, these preferences for cost-effective technologies and logistics would save taxpayers billions of dollars annually, making fuel switching a “best value” proposition.

For all of these reasons, in June 2013, ACSF asked GSA Administrator Daniel Tangherlini to reflect the lessons of the “Oil Shift” report in future government transport contracts such as DDS3. We were not alone — a cross-industry coalition joined us, including the American Council on Renewable Energy, Advanced Energy Economy and the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

It is also worth noting that the vendors likely to bid on DDS3 already have made significant progress in reducing their own harmful emissions and their use of petroleum. They have established programs that quantify the relevant environmental factors and recognize the feasibility of dramatic improvements for this industry in the next few years.

For instance, UPS Inc. aims to reduce fine particulate emissions per vehicle by 75% and nitrogen oxides emissions per vehicle by 60% between 2012 and 2020. It also will increase the alternative fuel and advanced technology miles driven to 1 billion by 2017. Similarly, FedEx Express seeks to increase vehicle fuel efficiency 30% by 2020 compared with fiscal 2005, and Deutsche Post DHL targets a 30% improvement in the carbon efficiency of its operation by 2020, as compared with a 2007 baseline.

Federal contracts can challenge companies to do even better. GSA should adopt its proposed environmental preferences for DDS3, and GSA, along with the Department of Defense, U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies, should apply these factors in other solicitations.

As vendors improve their fleets to win government orders, the private sector will see large multiplier benefits. Most trucks used for their federal contracts also serve commercial and residential customers. By setting challenging targets for competing public vendors, Washington can help unleash the American ingenuity that will grow the U.S. economy while delivering cleaner air, improved public health and enhanced energy security. More-efficient vehicles running on cheaper fuels also will provide large cost reductions to government and private shippers alike.

The American Clean Skies Foundation is an independent Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working for cleaner energy and efficiency in the U.S. transportation and power sectors.