13 Jul Natural Gas Vehicles: A Dynamic Time in PA
Pennsylvania state government has been consumed with budget activity for most of the spring and summer, especially in the past month or so. Despite all the action and focus on the state budget, there are a lot of other policy items being pushed forward. Our team has been deeply involved on two fronts involving natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and have been making some headway on behalf of Clean Energy and this important burgeoning industry in Pennsylvania.
One issue we have been working with is the issue of roadway weight limits and their inequitable impact on NGVs. Federal truck weight limits (and Pennsylvania weight limits generally) are fixed at 80,000 lbs. Natural gas long-haul trucks inherently weigh more than their diesel counterparts due to the increased weight limits of the fuel systems on NGVs. Because NGVs have a heavier fuel system, they are often forced to carry reduced loads to stay within the allowable weight limits. This puts NGVs at a competitive disadvantage – which makes little sense from a public policy perspective given how much fewer greenhouse gasses they emit than their diesel equivalents.
In 2015, President Obama signed the FAST Act – a comprehensive piece of transportation legislation. This legislation authorized states to increase their highway weight limits to 82,000 lbs. for NGVs. Last year, we began an effort to take advantage of that opportunity. This session, we restarted the effort with Representative Carl Metzgar and Senator Wayne Langerholc by introducing House Bill 603 and Senate Bill 589 respectively. Senate Bill 589 was amended with other FAST Act related provisions and became our primary legislative vehicle. We are proud to say that Senate Bill 589 is now on its way to Governor Wolf’s desk for signature. With his signature and the 60-day effective date in the bill, the increased weight limit for NGVs will be effective in Pennsylvania sometime in the middle of September, 2017.
On a separate track, Capital Associates is taking the lead in coordinating NGV industry input into what is an incredible opportunity before the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As many will recall, Volkswagen was recently caught using technology to mask the true emissions output of their on-road diesel vehicles. As a result of this scandal, Volkswagen has agreed to several legal settlements which are resulting in financial penalties and mitigating actions by Volkswagen. One aspect of these settlements is the establishment of an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT). Volkswagen is required to pay $2.7 billion into this trust which has the purpose of mitigating the impact of the VW scandal. Of this $2.7 billion, Pennsylvania will have access to more than $118 million. The funding must be used to support alternative fueled vehicles in Pennsylvania. For an overview of the opportunity in Pennsylvania, be sure to read this op-ed that ran in www.PennLive.com by T. Boone Pickens.
Other than the requirement of supporting alternative fueled vehicles, the settlement affords states a significant amount of flexibility in deploying the EMT funds. From a public policy perspective, we have advocated that Pennsylvania needs to get the “biggest bang for each buck” we spend…meaning the greatest emissions reduction for each dollar spent. We have also argued that the projects supported out of the EMT should closely, if not directly, mitigate the origin of the funding – on road vehicle emissions. In fact, legislation introduced by Senator Camera Bartolotta (SB 722) and soon to be introduced by Rep. Carl Metzgar (HB 1661), would require Pennsylvania to adhere to these important policy principles. The fact is if you share those policy objectives, it is quickly evident that natural gas vehicles are a superior investment for EMT funding in Pennsylvania.
An informal coalition of NGV industry stakeholders has recently submitted public comments along these lines to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as part of the recently closed public participation process on their draft plan for the use of EMT funding in Pennsylvania. Senator Bartolotta and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Gene Yaw also submitted a joint letter to the DEP as part of this public comment process.
Governor Wolf has been a strong supporter of natural gas vehicle deployment in Pennsylvania. The EMT affords him another opportunity to push the development of this clean burning transportation option to positively impact Pennsylvania’s environment. It is an opportunity the DEP should not squander.
If you have any questions about any of the above or on other natural gas vehicle public policy considerations, please reach out to us!
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