Last week, a bipartisan coalition of 133 House members signed on to co-sponsor the latest incarnation of the NAT GAS Act, which would provide credits for consumers, OEMs, fleet operators and filling station owners to encourage the adoption of compressed and liquified natural gas vehicles. The legislation was first introduced several years ago—thanks largely to the backing of energy magnate T. Boone Pickens—but had stagnated in congress until last week, when President Obama endorsed it as part of a major energy policy speech outlining White House proposals to cut annual oil imports by one-third within ten years.
With gasoline prices climbing ever closer to the $4 per gallon, momentum behind the newly updated bill is said to be growing in Washington. Pickens claimed recently that this time around, NAT GAS is a “no-brainer” to win congressional approval—predicting that it will pass with about 300 votes in the House of Representatives. The current bill is largely the same as its predecessors, though it would expire after just five years instead of 17, and create no mandates for public or private CNG adoption. The total cost of the bill hasn’t been released, but some proponents have placed it at about $1 billion per year.
Among NAT GAS’s provisions:
- Tax credits of up to $7,500 toward the purchase of consumer compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas vehicles, and as much as $64,000 for heavier grade commercial trucks.
- Up to $4,000 per vehicle for manufacturers of CNG and LNG vehicles.
- A $0.50 per gallon discount on the federal fuel tax.
- A 50 percent tax credit (maxing out at $100,000) toward the installation of CNG/LNG pumps at public and private filling stations.
- A $2,000 credit toward the installation of home refueling stations.
If NAT GAS were to win approval, it would constitute the first major victory for T. Boone Pickens and his Pickens Plan, which the billionaire began touting three years ago as a remedy for the nation’s foreign oil addiction. Pickens freely admits to being heavily invested in the gas and wind sectors promoted in his proposals, and his companies would be among the chief beneficiaries to any major market penetration by natural gas vehicles.
But Pickens isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for CNG. Honda has been quietly selling its Civic GX in California, Utah, Oklahoma and New York for six years—though that car is currently the only mass-market consumer natural gas vehicle available in the United States. Last year though, Honda announced that it will be expanding availability of the GX to all 50 states in 2012. Recently, word has spread that the car is being updated in anticipation of a more aggressive American market push, though Honda has offered modest sales projections for 2012—just 4,000 vehicles per year, or twice the current numbers.
Still, if the current version of NAT GAS becomes law and the federal government offers OEMs and consumers a combined $11,500 per vehicle to take a chance on CNG, Honda may need to adjust its forecasts.