With an eye on improved air quality and increased demand, Pennsylvania is making the case that existing regulation allow drivers to convert their vehicles to run on natural gas.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published a guidance document late last month arguing that vehicle conversion is allowed under the state’s existing emissions standards.

Federal law requires states to adopt either federal low emission vehicle standards, or the standards of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Pennsylvania chose the CARB standards as its model when creating its Pennsylvania Clean Vehicles Program (PCVP) in 2006, but it did not address the issue of conversions.

That silence not only created some confusion among consumers interested in converting their cars and trucks to natural gas, but also allows the state some flexibility on the matter, the DEP believes.

The new guidance clarifies that the PCVP allows consumers and manufacturers to use either CARB or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards when converting a vehicle to run on natural gas. Although not an actual change in policy, the DEP hopes the guidance makes people more willing to convert cars and trucks.

The document grows from the work of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (MSAC), which recommended that the state repeal a PCVP prohibition on conversions to vehicles that run on natural gas and diesel. After studying the issue, the DEP says the prohibition never actually existed, but thought the program needed clarification, spokesman Kevin Sunday told NGI.

The guidance should now allow for bi-fuel systems. “The whole of the policy is for clean alternative fuel systems,” Sunday said.

The guidance is geared toward cleaning up the air, but Pennsylvania is also eager to prevent operators from curbing natural gas production because of weak demand. That goal is hampered by budgetary shortfalls challenging other demand-boosting recommendations of MSAC, such a “Green Corridors” with natural gas filling stations dotting major highways across the state.

Both of the impact fee bills working through the Pennsylvania General Assembly would direct revenue toward converting public fleets to run on natural gas, but a larger legislative package to expand gas use is stalled in committee (see Daily GPI, April 6).

“We have these existing regulations,” Sunday said. “You’re going to want to maximize what you have on the books,” rather than wait on the potential long process of writing new laws or regulations.

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