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Boren: U.S. Should Redefine How Cars Are Fueled

From record-breaking fuel prices last year to the near-collapse of several domestic auto manufacturers last winter, the news surrounding one of the purest symbols of Americana — the automobile — has become increasingly dismal. While the cost of unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel has stabilized across the nation this year, it is imperative that we take a fresh look at the future of the automobile — and more specifically, the way we fuel it.

[IMGCAP(1)]It would be just as foolish for automakers to continue making products that don’t compete well in the open market as it would be for policymakers and consumers to completely forget the $4 a gallon gasoline that gripped America last year.

Instead, it is time to redefine how we fuel our vehicles. I believe we must find a cleaner, less expensive alternative to traditional gasoline, while at the same time curbing our nation’s dependence on foreign energy. That is why I was proud to join T. Boone Pickens and my colleagues Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and fellow Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan (R) in introducing legislation this spring to do just that.

H.R. 1835, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act, or NAT GAS Act, would provide:

• A significant increase in the use of natural gas vehicles. The legislation would expand the use of NGVs by creating incentives for private consumers to buy them, by creating incentives for private and public vehicle fleet managers to buy them, and by requiring that by the end of 2014 at least half of the new vehicles purchased and placed into service by the federal government be capable of operating on natural gas.

• A significant increase in the manufacture of NGVs in the United States. The bill would establish long-term, sustained incentives for automakers to retool factories for the production of NGVs. All major auto manufacturers currently make NGVs for overseas markets, and this incentive is critical to begin offering these vehicles in the U.S. market.

• A significant increase in the opportunities for refueling NGVs. The legislation would increase and extend the tax credits currently available for installing a natural gas refueling pump in a private residence, at a local gas station or at the yard where an organization’s vehicle fleet is refueled. There are more than 1,100 NGV fueling stations in the U.S., but just a little more than half are available for public use.

Natural gas is the cleanest, most abundant and most economical domestic fuel source that America has available. The U.S. has enough natural gas reserves to last us more than 118 years. Furthermore, large deposits of natural gas across the nation have become much more accessible and cost-effective to obtain because of recent advances in exploration and drilling technology. Natural gas vehicles also produce roughly 95 percent less overall toxins than gasoline and diesel vehicles, and produce 22 percent to 29 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. At the fuel pump, natural gas costs on average one-third less than conventional gasoline. During peak prices for gasoline and diesel in 2008, the nationwide average cost for natural gas per unit was still less than $2.

This legislation wouldn’t just benefit our environment, give us cheaper transportation and make us less dependent on foreign energy — it would also greatly benefit the health of our economy by helping save and create manufacturing jobs. The NAT GAS Act would play a critical role in establishing a sustained market for NGVs and would help rein in the volatility that is often found in our domestic gas market and the foreign energy market.

Despite recent developments, we still stand at an economic, energy and vehicular manufacturing crossroads. The decisions we make today will determine the stability of our future automobile industry, domestic energy industry and the daily cost of energy for tens of millions of consumers and businesses across the nation. With natural gas vehicles, we have a real opportunity to establish a cleaner, cheaper fuel alternative that will provide an independent energy future for America. The passage of the NAT GAS Act would be a defining moment in that effort.

I am a strong supporter of all forms of American-made energy. I believe Congress must recognize the strengths of each — environmentally, economically and in the interests of national security.

Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) serves on the Intelligence, Natural Resources and Armed Services committees.

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