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Obama Announces Modestly Green Federal Fleet Purchase

President Obama just announced that the General Services Administration will purchase 17,600 new fuel-efficient government vehicles by June 1, using funds from the stimulus package. All purchases will be made from Ford, General Motors and Chrysler in an attempt to revive the American auto industry.

Yet the environmental goals of the program are quite modest. Although the White House press release on the subject claims that it will “prevent 26 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere,” it also states an “overall goal of at least a 10 percent increase in fuel-efficiency for the entire procurement.”

Studies have shown that 10 to 20 percent of a vehicle’s lifetime emissions come from its manufacture and disposal. If the government program results in the assembly of over 17,000 vehicles that are only 10 percent more efficient than those they are replacing, the overall effect is an increase in emissions.

The real impetus for this program, then, is to stimulate Detroit and help put the auto industry on a more eco-friendly path. The White House does not attempt to hide its aims; the press release states:

This accelerated GSA purchasing strategy is one component of the President’s overall commitment to supporting auto demand during this period of restructuring in the industry. Moving forward, the Administration will continue to work on several fronts to increase the flow of credit to auto consumers and dealers, and will work with Congress to pass an incentive program for people who turn in older, more fuel inefficient cars for cleaner cars.

Like a cash-for-clunkers program, this new fleet purchase is a small step toward a greener auto industry in the long term, even if its immediate effects are not as environmentally friendly as they appear.

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