- - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump showed his commitment to America’s energy future and a belief in its innovative spirit.

Appointing Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to top energy-related posts in his Cabinet underscores his commitment to meeting that pledge, because these experts already know that clean-burning natural gas is a true transportation innovation. The natural gas vehicle industry is bullish on these choices, and strongly encourages the Senate to confirm them soon.

Mr. Pruitt, as attorney general of Oklahoma, saw firsthand how quickly natural gas became so popular that it outpaced other forms of energy. He’ll be a great administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under Gov. Perry’s leadership, Texas drove development of the wind, solar and natural gas industries. He signed legislation creating the “Texas Triangle,” which established a natural gas vehicle clean transportation corridor between the major population centers in the state. Air quality has improved and today this corridor is the backbone of a strong natural gas vehicle industry. Mr. Perry knows how to streamline decision-making and is an excellent choice as energy secretary.

One can witness this same kind of forward thinking and innovation at the Cummins Engine Plant in Rocky Mount, N.C. It’s where the revolutionary Cummins Westport “Near Zero” natural gas engine is built, which reduces harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent from the current EPA standard. No other transportation fuel delivers such performance.

And millions more Americans will benefit as cities across the United States keep turning to clean-burning natural gas for public transportation. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for example, is using heavy-duty, American-made, natural gas engines to power buses that are among the cleanest in the world.

Los Angeles is hardly alone. Nearly a quarter of U.S. public transit buses are using natural gas and almost 60 percent of all new waste and recycling trucks purchased each year now run on clean-burning natural gas.

Despite this true innovation in transportation and its growing use, the previous administration’s narrow focus on electric vehicles skewed what should have been a level playing field. Case in point:

EPA’s current regulations require a reduction in fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles get outsized credit for air pollution reductions despite the upstream emissions that electricity production creates.

Consumers get a hefty tax credit to buy an electric car but they don’t get one to buy a natural gas vehicle. A more balanced tax code would allow the market to work by encouraging manufacturers to produce natural gas vehicles and accelerate sales.

The EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) provides funding for states to retrofit and replace older, dirtier diesel vehicles with up to 50 percent off the sticker price. But most of the funding goes to buying new diesel trucks. Future funding should allocate a percentage of monies to purchase the latest natural gas engines, thereby strengthening the intent of the program by putting the cleanest heavy-duty vehicles on the road.

Clean-burning natural gas is an underutilized asset in the America economy. Legislation and policies that encourage increased investment in putting more natural gas into transportation uses — vehicles, marine and rail — will accelerate job growth, enhance national security and significantly lower emissions. There are plenty of ways to achieve these goals.

Congress should, for example, extend the 50-cent per gasoline gallon equivalent tax credit for natural gas used in transportation for five years. The credit helps offset the cost of owning and operating a natural gas vehicle while encouraging more fleets to adopt the technology. A one-time, five-year extension will provide small businesses with the certainty they need to make long-term investments that will create more jobs and put the cleanest trucks on the road.

We hope the new administration will also consider strengthening portions of the Renewable Fuel Standard program to leverage the potential of renewable natural gas. This American fuel has the lowest emissions among transportation fuels by converting existing waste streams into fuel.

Our hope is that the new administration and Congress will create a fair environment that will allow the full benefits of natural gas vehicles and the growing use of natural gas in marine applications to truly shine as we work together to reach our nation’s full potential.

Thank you, Mr. President, for both choices. Like you, we know America can be a leader, not a laggard, in leveraging clean-burning natural gas and the innovation it drives. These nominations signal you are firmly behind your pledge to make American great again by unleashing the full potential of America’s domestic energy resources.

• Matthew Godlewski is the president of NGVAmerica.

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