President Biden last week signed an executive order that, among other initiatives to mitigate climate change, strongly encourages the federal government to buy only zero-emission vehicles. Biden wants those vehicles to be made mostly in the US, by unionized workers, which he thinks will help stimulate the economy and create up to 1 million jobs.
Seen one way, the federal fleet is just a drop in the ocean of American vehicles. According to the General Services Administration, the federal government owned 645,000 vehicles as of 2019, just 3,200 of them fully electric and 1,260 gas hybrids. That’s a tiny fraction of the 280 million vehicles that traveled on US roads that year. Of the 17.1 million vehicles sold in the US in 2019, just 1.4 percent were fully electric.
Still, experts say the executive order is significant. It’s a sign that the Biden administration is serious about mitigating climate change—and that it’s committed to supporting the still-fledgling electric vehicle industry, which has collected plenty of Wall Street money but not yet convinced many Americans to buy its cars.
“It’s a very symbolic gesture, and the first of its kind from the federal government,” says Sanya Carley, a professor who studies energy policy at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. “This sets a precedent.”