Sunday, November 30, 2008

The inanity of mandates

The Washington Post last week had an interested article about a congressional mandate for federal agencies to buy ever-increasing amounts of vehicles capable of running on alternative fuels, such as ethanol, propane, and compressed natural gas. The only problem is that while there was a mandate in place to buy flex-fuel vehicles, there was no corresponding mandate to use the supposedly "green" capabilities of these cars, and as a result, "more than 92 percent of the fuel used in the government's alternative-fuel fleet continues to be standard gasoline." (And obviously mandating that government or private agencies build vast distribution networks is entirely unfeasible, and in the case of ethanol, we know in retrospect that it wouldn't have been a good idea, anyway). The Postal Service – an agency that you'd think, because of its large car and truck fleets, would be in a good position to demand and use alternative fuels, failed just as badly (if not worse) than other agencies:

The Postal Service illustrates the problem. It estimates that its 37,000 newer alternative-fuel delivery vans, which can run on high-grade ethanol, consumed 1.5 million additional gallons of gasoline last fiscal year because of the larger engines.

These alternative fuel vehicles tend to have larger engines than the sorts of cars and trucks that these agencies would purchase without the mandate, and so in the end, these mandates have had a negative environmental impact, not to mention costing federal agencies more money:

"They were bigger, they ran on gas, and they weren't fuel-efficient,'' said Mark Gaffigan, director of natural resources and environment with the Government Accountability Office, which completed a program audit last month. "If they had just bought regular vehicles that were more fuel-efficient, they would be better off."

It's scary to think of all of the ways that environmentalism could go wrong again during the coming years. I discussed the potentially disastrous consequences of non-food biofuels two weeks again.

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