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EPA Rule Changes on CNG Conversions Widely Lauded

At a time when the concept of natural gas as a transportation fuel is getting newfound backing in the nation's capital and in various states, there was generally positive reaction to the recent move by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make it easier to certify compressed natural gas (CNG) conversion systems.

In releasing its changes, the EPA said it has clarified and streamlined the conversion manufacturing process "while maintaining strong environmental safeguards."

The national trade association for the natural gas vehicle (NGV) industry, Washington, DC-based NGV America, said "the federal government just made it easier to convert cars and trucks to run on natural gas." Sacramento, CA-based auto-buying advisory service TheAutoChannel.com said that once some details related to government fees and other issues "get put to bed, we could be on the road to cleaner air, economic recovery and less profits for the OPEC countries."

NGV America President Richard Kolodziej said he thinks the new EPA regulations will make it "less burdensome and less expensive" for companies that make vehicle conversion systems, and this "should have the effect of making conversions more affordable and getting more conversion systems into the marketplace."

Amanda Smith, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and Gov. Gary Herbert's energy advisor, has been a champion for boosting natural gas use in transportation. She likes the EPA move, telling NGI that Utah has been encouraging EPA to make the changes.

"Utah is a leader in the push for expanding the use of natural gas vehicles," Smith said. "We have strongly encouraged EPA to ease the rules that would allow Utah residents the opportunity to convert vehicles to natural gas and are pleased with its decision to do so.

"We've recently awarded grants and loans to several businesses and local governments that would allow them to convert fleets into CNG vehicles and expand CNG fueling stations. The state's 10-year strategic energy plan reflects the need to tap into natural gas as a clean, affordable option."

In Salt Lake City one of the major western natural gas industry players, Questar Corp., echoed this enthusiasm.

"In general, I would say Questar believes this is a step in the right direction," said Questar spokesperson Chad Jones. "Anything that streamlines the process and relaxes some of the requirements related to older vehicles and altering new engines and ultimately puts more natural gas vehicles on the road is a good thing for both the country and for the conversion shops."

In analyzing the new rules, NGV America said there will be three new tiers: relatively new vehicles; vehicles more than two model years old; and vehicles "beyond their useful life," the definition of which varies depending on vehicle size and weight. In addition, the new rules "will continue to require that manufacturers demonstrate that their conversion systems maintain emissions performance of the vehicle. In most cases, natural gas will produce less emissions because of its clean-burning properties."

Marc Rauch, an executive vice president with TheAutoChannel.com, is skeptical about whether the EPA move will have the positive effects everyone in the NGV industry is hoping will be the case. He thinks the need to annually have CNG systems recertified is "onerous" and at times gets his organization "a little upset," Rauch said.

Rauch is suspicious about the origins of some certification requirements placed on CNG conversion kits and other alternative fuels that his organization also promotes. For CNG conversions, the regular certification charges drive up the costs of converting vehicles to run on natural gas and make it harder to expand the market, he said.

Kolodziej thinks the EPA changes are particularly important for heavy-duty fleets. "Because of cost, currently there are no EPA-approved conversion systems for diesel vehicles," he said, adding that heavy-duty fleet vehicles have the greatest potential for cutting down on foreign oil imports because they are the biggest [fleet] consumers of fuel.

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