Somewhere down the line, after the budget appropriations bills at the top of the agenda for the extended session in Congress this week, is the optimistically named “New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011,” HR 1380, the NAT GAS Act.
It’s been high on the Library of Congress’s list of most-researched bills for the past couple weeks, though the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power on April 6 and hasn’t moved since then.
Colorado legislators with long-standing interests in the environment and clean energy are divided on the act, arguing that it provides either the only feasible solution for cleaning up the trucking industry, or that it doesn’t do enough to clean up air quality and put those costs on energy companies instead of taxpayers.
The NAT GAS Act creates or extends tax credits for the purchase or manufacture of vehicles powered by liquefied natural gas, and allocates funding for improving natural gas vehicles. The bill also requires the secretary of energy to provide funding to “improve the performance, efficiency and integration” of motor vehicles powered by natural gas. The multi-pronged approach is designed to meet the needs of manufacturers, consumers, gas station owners, according to the office of Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colorado.
“You’ve got to give consumers some incentives to purchase a natural gas vehicle, you’ve got to give gas station owners a little incentive to put the pump in, and then the manufacturers incentives to make it,” said Perlmutter’s deputy press secretary, Christopher Votoupal.
Perlmutter and Rep. Diana DeGette, also a Colorado Democrat, have both signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
“It’s going to help wean us from foreign sources of oil, and we can use a domestic, cleaner burning fuel, and obviously that’s very good for Colorado,” Votoupal said.
Though there are consumer perks, the bill focuses largely on industrial use — diesel-run semi trucks that move much of the country’s freight.
“Based on all the meetings we’ve had, policy discussions, industry group meetings, you name it, natural gas is a natural fit for our trucking fleet right now,” Votoupal said.
It’s an affordable fuel — a gallon going for about $1.95 in January, according to the Department of Energy — that can power big trucks in a way electric batteries cannot. There’s an estimated 100year supply of natural gas domestically.
Perlmutter is responding to the requests of his constituents to decrease prices and increase domestic fuel use, according to his staff.
Perlmutter has also reported $41,400 in campaign contributions from interest groups that support the bill, according to MapLight.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in the U.S. Congress.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, is vice chairman of the House’s Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.
“High gas prices are a demand-driven problem, rooted in speculation and international markets,” he said in a March statement. “Continuing to fight for increased efficiency standards, transportation alternatives, ending wasteful oil and gas subsidies, smart growth and renewable fuels is the only way we will end our addiction to foreign oil for good.”
He’s a supporter of natural gas vehicles and other alternative fuels as a way to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil, according to his spokesman, Christopher Fitzgerald, but he has not signed as a co-sponsor of the act.
“The NAT GAS Act fails to address the fact that, while cleaner burning, natural gas remains a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, any taxpayer-supported incentive for natural gas vehicles should go hand-in-hand with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure that natural gas development is safer,” Fitzgerald said in an emailed statement.
The act’s list of tax credits also includes tax subsidies benefiting big energy companies.
“The NAT GAS Act would also provide significant tax incentives to the oil and gas industry at a time when they’re earning record profits and Americans are paying record energy prices,” Fitzgerald said in the email.
Polis has received just $500 from groups supporting the act, a fact attributed to his refusal to accept money from political action committees, Fitzgerald said, “a key way in which corporate interests attempt to influence elections.”