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Biden wants all federal vehicles to be electric. N.J. congressman’s bill would require it.

The week after he took office, President Joe Biden pledged to convert the government’s fleet of vehicles to those using alternative fuels and having zero emissions, such as electric cars.

Now Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is introducing legislation to prod the federal government toward that goal and prevent a future president from rolling back that effort.

On Monday, Pallone, D-6th Dist., proposed a bill requiring the government to increase the number of alternative-fueled zero-emission vehicles it buys, reaching 100% by 2050. There are about 650,000 vehicles in the federal fleet.

Biden took the initial steps in January 2021 with an executive order to combat the climate crisis. Last month, he signed the Inflation Reduction Act that takes steps to reduce emissions, including tax credits for buying electric vehicles made in America and rebates for purchasing more energy-efficient appliances.

That bill, passed over unanimous Republican opposition, also lowered health insurance premiums and prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients.

Pallone’s bill also would transfer 90 million of barrels of oil from the existing strategic petroleum reserve to a new economic petroleum reserve that the Department of Energy can sell to lower the cost of gasoline when oil prices exceed $90 per barrel. The economic reserve would be refilled by buying oil when the price drops $60 per barrel or below.

The new reserve would make it easier for a president to release oil to hold down prices, including in response to other countries trying to reduce supplies, such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Some of the proceeds would go to help states build recharging stations and other infrastructure to help move to alternative fuel vehicles.

“Americans are tired of bearing the burden of our dependence on a volatile, unpredictable oil market controlled primarily by foreign dictators and adversaries,” Pallone said. “By empowering DOE to buy oil when prices are low and sell when they are high, my bill helps us regain control of domestic gas prices and protects drivers from future price fluctuations.”

In addition, gasoline and diesel would be stored at locations across the country to make it easier to release it in response to storms or other disasters. And the bill would increase the size of the separate Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve to 4 million barrels of home heating oil from 1 million barrels.

Oil could not be sold to China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other countries under U.S. sanctions unless the government certifies that it was in the interests of national security.

Gas prices have declined since reaching a record high of $5.059 for a gallon of unleaded fuel in New Jersey in early June, but a 98-day streak of dropping prices ended Wednesday.

Pallone and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., have been among the members of Congress most critical of the oil companies, accusing them of taking advantage of the Ukraine war, inflation and the coronavirus pandemic to make record profits at the expense of consumers.

Pascrell, chair of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, released a report last month accusing the industry of keeping profits high while keeping supplies low.

These were the findings after Pascrell in March sent letters to the heads of 11 oil companies.

“Big Oil has failed to ramp up production to meet demand. Instead, these tycoons are taking advantage of our tax code and cashing in to reward executives and investors with lavish buybacks,” Pascrell said.

“By deliberately keeping production low, Big Oil has kept prices and profits sky high – and they’ve used inflation and Ukraine as cover for their greed. While Americans suffer at the pump the oil companies focus on stock buybacks and executive pocket-lining,” he said.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s trade group, dismissed the report.

“Americans are looking for solutions, not political posturing,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs.

“This is an industry of price takers, not price makers, and repeated in-depth investigations by the [Federal Trade Commission] have shown that changes in gasoline prices are based on market factors and not due to illegal behavior. The price at the pump that Americans are currently paying is a function of increased demand and lagging supply combined with geopolitical turmoil and policy uncertainty from Washington.”

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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him at @JDSalant.

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