Increased use of natural gas as a heavy-duty transportation fuel and as a substitute for coal in electricity generation is a key to breaking the United States' dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank founded by John Podesta, White House chief of staff for former President Clinton.

"Combusting natural gas to power motor vehicles produces about one-third of the global warming pollution of petroleum burned in cars," the report said. "It should therefore play a larger role in our energy mix and help reduce our oil use given its domestic abundance and its lower pollutant levels...the expansion of known and potential reserves of natural gas could replace oil in heavy trucks that are often centrally fueled and are too heavy for hybrid battery/petroleum engines."

To increase the use of natural gas as a heavy-duty transportation fuel CAP called for passage of the Nat Gas Act, or New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions (S 1408), a bill introduced last month by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). That bill would modify existing tax incentives to encourage the purchase of natural gas vehicles and construction of natural gas refueling infrastructure, encourage federal agencies to use alternative-fueled vehicles and provide grants to light and heavy-duty engine manufacturers for research and development of better natural gas engines.

CAP advised the conversion of urban vehicle fleets and refueling infrastructures to compressed natural gas and other alternative fuels. CAP also called for incentives to promote the use of more natural gas, rather than coal, for electricity generation.

Continuing dependence on foreign oil and the growing impacts of global warming are a threat to American security, and a move toward "clean energy sources," including natural gas, must be made in order to break that dependence and address climate change, according to the CAP report.

"Policies to accomplish this goal, including more efficient fuel economy standards, investments in hybrid and electric vehicles, development of natural gas-fueled heavy duty vehicles and production of advanced biofuels would also create jobs and reduce global warming pollution," CAP said in its report. "A transformation from oil to no- and low-carbon energy sources will catalyze innovation that creates new technologies that the United States can market to other nations, leading to long-term economic growth and prosperity as well as enhanced security."

Domestic oil production, including supplies in the Outer Continental Shelf, won't be enough to end the dependence on foreign oil, according to the report. "Oil is simply not a domestically sustainable energy source." The answer, according to CAP, is to increase the market share of clean energy sources, including natural gas.

"The most viable program for sustained energy supply and lower oil use is a three-pronged approach that includes significantly more fuel efficient cars, including hybrids and electric cars; the use of alternative fuels for transportation, including production of advanced biofuels and natural gas; and significant investment in public transit."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated $71 billion for energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart grid technology and more efficient transportation, was an important first step, but the United States "must do more than increase renewable sources," CAP said.

CAP went to lengths to defend the proposed American Clean Energy and Security Act bill (HR 2454), which cleared the House earlier this summer and now awaits Senate action (see NGI, June 22). Included in the House bill is a proposed cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions that would require a 17% reduction in emissions by 2020 and an 83% reduction by 2050. The legislation would also boost investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar.

Producers and business organizations that want to stop passage of the climate change bill have kicked off what they say will be a series of rallies across the country to oppose the cap-and-trade bill now before Congress (see related story). In response, labor and environmental groups -- in partnership with Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection -- launched a nationwide jobs tour in support of a clean economy and climate change legislation.

The Department of Energy will provide nearly $300 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for 25 projects aimed at the development of alternative fuel vehicles, including those using compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, electricity and hybrid electric systems, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said last week (see related story).

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