The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 20 that government motor vehicle fleets need to be powered by clean energy sources, such as natural gas and alternative fuels. The rules apply to fleets of 15 vehicles or more, the appellate court said.

Local governments and businesses with government contracts are required to buy vehicles that use natural gas or other alternative fuels under rules adopted in the 2000-01 period by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Air district regulators and environmental representatives praised the court action in local news media reports.

AQMD fleet rules had been challenged by the Engine Manufacturers Association and the Western States Petroleum Association, a powerful oil industry group. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appellate court.

AQMD board Chair William Burke called the court decision “great news for residents of Southern California, especially for children, elderly and those with heart and lung disease.”

The federal appellate court ruled there was no intent by Congress to “bar states” from choosing to use their own money to acquire or use vehicles that are cleaner than the federal standards. Unclear for some industry operators is whether the latest ruling allows private companies operating without a government contract to be subjected to the fleet rules. That question will go back to the district court, according to an analysis of the court ruling by local news media in California.

More than 6,000 fleet vehicles that run on natural gas or other alternatives have been purchased because of the new rules, AQMD’s spokesperson said.

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