Following the lead of Gov. Jon Huntsman, the Utah House of Representatives Friday passed a resolution 70-0 designed to move the state and the nation on the path to conversion and use of natural gas-powered vehicles.
The resolution calls on the state government to encourage the formation of public and private partnerships to increase the states' refueling infrastructure for natural gas-powered vehicles, and urges changes in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to speed conversions of existing vehicles from fueling with gasoline to burning natural gas.
The action came after the governor in his State of the State speech a week earlier said he would work to designate Interstate 15 from the border with Idaho in the north to Utah's southeastern border with Arizona as a natural gas corridor with sufficient refueling stations to support long distance travel in natural gas vehicles (NGV).
"It makes sense -- working with Questar, a great local company -- to encourage the use of natural gas which emits almost no pollution, is more affordable and most importantly, is a domestic fuel found right here in our own backyard; getting Utah, and the nation, one step closer to breaking our addiction to foreign oil," Huntsman said. "This will require adding infrastructure, looking differently at our regulatory approach and demanding that we look beyond the here and now."
The house resolution outlines a course of action. As a start, the EPA needs to streamline its regulations for testing and certifying conversion kits particularly for small volume manufacturers. The conversion process itself is not difficult, but currently each vehicle converted must be individually tested and certified. The Utah resolution would have the EPA waive requirements for recertifying conversion kits if they have been previously certified for the model of vehicle to be converted and neither the kit nor the design and specifications of the model of vehicle to be converted have substantially changed.
EPA also should allow small vehicle manufacturers to include vehicles and engines in a single engine category to improve the cost efficiency of emission testing of converted vehicles, the resolution stated. It also should provide additional guidance to small volume manufacturers regarding the conversion of older vehicle models, continuing an NGV research, development, and demonstration funding program to help improve and develop natural gas usage by engines and vehicles.
Rep. Jack R. Draxler, (R-Dist. 3) sponsored the resolution in the House, telling members on the floor Friday that it doesn't make sense to ignore the cleaner-burning alternative fuel the state and the nation has in abundance. "As we move toward greater use of compressed natural gas (CNG), we need to send this message to the federal government to get off their duff and get busy with a fuel that actually makes too much sense in so many ways...The EPA has been really dragging its feet in approving engine blocks and conversion kits." Draxler noted $4 a gallon gasoline was a very recent memory and those prices were likely to return. Also, the state has suffered from inversions from pollution in its valleys.
For the state to take the certification process out of the EPA's hands would require the setting up of a rival state bureaucracy, Draxler said, which then would have to be duplicated in other states. This would be expensive and time-consuming. It would be better to change the course of the federal agency.
The House resolution will be sent to the state senate and the governor for ratification and then distributed to other states across the country.
It was recently estimated there are 6,000 natural gas-powered cars in Utah, partly as a result of recent high gasoline prices and partly because of a utility subsidy for CNG over the last 20 years. That subsidy is about to end. The Utah Public Service Commission in a Questar Gas rate case (07-057-13) called for the removal of the subsidized rate which had remained at a gasoline equivalent of 80 cents per gallon. The price will rise July 1 to reflect the actual costs of the fuel, which the commission has estimated at a gasoline-equivalent price of about $1.43 per gallon (see NGI, Jan. 5).
Last summer Questar, which operates 21 refueling stations (19 in Utah and two in Wyoming) had trouble providing enough fuel for the NGV fleet, which includes both legally and illegally converted vehicles. There is only one dedicated NGV, the Honda Civic GX, that is currently manufactured in limited numbers.
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