The five-year surface transportation bill (FAST Act) has been passed by both houses of Congress and carries some important provisions for advancing the use of natural gas vehicles (NGV), according to the Washington, DC-based NGVAmerica trade group, which lobbied hard for the provisions.

Exemptions from federal weight provisions for heavy-duty NGV trucks and regulatory parity on calculating fuel economy are two of the provisions that caused NGVAmerica to applaud Congress loudly on Thursday. Another industry organization closely watching the bill, the American Petroleum Institute, also lauded the FAST Act, saying it will enhance the oil/natural gas industry’s ability to safely transport fuels to consumers, and the bill makes key improvements in crude oil-carrying rail tank cars.

There are also provisions for creating congestion mitigation and air quality improvement corridors at port facilities to encourage more use of alternate fueled vehicles, including NGVs, according to NGVAmerica President Matt Godlewski.

“Congress recognizes the value of using clean-burning NGVs in transportation, and the FAST Act will help put more NGVs on American roads,” said Godlewski, who praised Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and other congressional leaders for including key NGV provisions in the bipartisan transportation act. Both fleet operators and consumers switching to alternative fuel vehicles would benefit from the legislation, he said.

Godlewski acknowledged that the NGV sector “has more work to do” to grow the market for NGVs, but Congress has “sent a strong message,” supporting a more diverse fuel mix in the U.S. economy.

“Investing in a modern safe infrastructure system to support our energy renaissance will benefit all Americans, enhance our energy security and allow the United States to better compete in an increasingly global energy economy,” said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard.

Separately, NGVAmerica and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) wrote to key members of Congress on Nov. 30, urging a reinstatement of the 50 cent/gallon tax credit for compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), which were allowed to expire at the end of last year. In addition, the two groups asked for reinstatements of incentives for CNG and LNG fueling infrastructure.

The letter was signed by leaders of the Public Gas Association, National Waste and Recycling Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, and the Truck Renting/Leasing Association, in addition to ATA and the NGV trade groups.

“The alternative fuel and infrastructure credits incentivize individuals and businesses to increase the use of natural gas as an alternative transportation fuel,” the groups wrote, contending that having the incentives for a multi-year period would greatly increase the adoption of NGVs in transportation.

At the outset of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the Obama administration released its final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, drawing cheers from the biodiesel sector and catcalls from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

The National Biodiesel Board was generally pleased with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final RFS rule, but RFA CEO Bob Dinneen said it would “chill investment” in second-generation biofuels. “Unlike big oil, the ethanol industry does not receive billions of dollars in tax subsidies, and the RFS is our only means of accessing the marketplace that is overwhelmingly and unfairly dominated by the petroleum industry, Dinneen said.

In the NGV sector, advances continued among heavy duty trucks and buses. Lake Forest, CA-based Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc. announced it has expanded its relationships with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) for NGV trucks, clearing the way for more of Quantum’s back-of-cab CNG fueling systems to be installed by OEMs.

Quantum is focusing on OEM modification centers or their nearby installation sites as a means of getting its fueling systems in more CNG trucks. “We continue to work with OEM and industry partners to make the customer purchase process of a CNG truck as tailored as possible to satisfy the needs of the end user,” said Quantum CEO Brian Olson.

Also in California, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell said it has opened a second LNG fueling outlet for trucks in partnership with TravelCenters of America (TA) truck stops on Interstate Highway 5 in Santa Nella, CA. Shell and TA opened their first California LNG truck fueling station in May last year, and they opened stations in Louisiana and Texas earlier this year. They now have seven LNG truck fueling stops in the United States. The Santa Nella station will service trucks operating between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

To the south, in Gardena, CA, Republic Services is eyeing the purchase of 11 CNG solid waste collection trucks for its fleet, replacing older diesel fuel trucks. That would increase Republic’s CNG trucks operating out of Gardena to 176.

Republic currently deploys more than 2,250 CNG trucks nationwide, and it is adding to the NGV fleet at the rate of about 300 new CNG trucks annually, company officials said. Republic began using natural gas 10 years ago.

“These new vehicles support our efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” said Ron Krall, Republic area president in Southern California. “This aligns with our long-term sustainability strategy.”

Elsewhere, a national consortium of public transit agencies led by the Greater Lafayette (LA) Public Transit Corp. has agreed to purchase up to 159 High Flyer of America buses — Xcelsior and MiDi models, hybrid and CNG — over the next five years. The buses will include 35-, 40- and 60-foot models powered by CNG or ultra-clean diesel or diesel-electric hybrids.

The other transit districts participating are Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit and Rock Island Quad Cities MetroLINK, both in Illinois; South Bend Transpo in Indiana; and Santa Rosa CityBus in California.