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The Time for Natural-Gas Trucking Is Now | Commentary

United Parcel Service’s announcement that it plans to expand its fleet of trucks running on liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to 800 by the end of next year is just the latest in a line of companies casting their vote for natural gas as the preferred commercial vehicle fuel. UPS joins AT&T, Frito-Lay, Republic Services, Ryder, Swift, Waste Management and many others making the switch to American natural gas.

In recognizing the potential of natural gas , the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently held hearings on what role the federal government can play to ensure that more American companies move more American goods on trucks running on American fuel.

Just last month, bipartisan legislation was introduced to ensure that American LNG — currently taxed at a rate about 70 percent higher than diesel on an energy equivalent basis — is taxed the same as diesel, following six state legislatures that have addressed the disparity on a state level.

What does all this activity say to me? The time for natural-gas trucking is now.

And why not? Cleaner, cheaper and more abundant than any other alternative vehicle fuel, natural gas is a clear winner.

It’s also uniquely American. About 98 percent of natural gas consumed in North America is domestically produced, so increasing use of natural-gas vehicles reduces our dependence on foreign oil and enhances our nation’s energy security.

But we must seize the moment. We have reached a critical juncture and have the opportunity to accelerate the positive momentum already in place.

The logical next step for natural gas, from both a strategic and an economic viewpoint, is to maximize its use in our heavy-duty, regional and long-haul trucking fleets. Today, shipping goods from the East Coast to the West Coast poses a dilemma because of the high cost of diesel and the added regulations on that dirtier fuel. Natural gas offers an immediate solution.

The United States needs to adapt its heavy-duty, long-distance fleet to use natural gas, which would reduce the energy, time and environmental cost significantly. In the past, the challenge has been that the infrastructure — in the form of natural-gas fueling stations — was in its infancy and arguably unable to handle such a swift increase in activity.

Not anymore, thanks in part to the development of America’s Natural Gas Highway, Clean Energy Fuels’ network of natural-gas stations that enable truckers to travel coast-to-coast and border-to-border on this clean, affordable and domestic source of energy.

We have already completed more than 70 new natural-gas truck fueling stations along highways that link major U.S. metropolitan areas. This year, we have plans to complete additional stations adjacent to long-haul trucking routes and around major warehouse distribution centers in North America. Major highway segments now completed include, among others, those linking the Southwest Corridor, Los Angeles to Atlanta, the Texas Triangle, Atlanta to Chicago to Texas, and major corridors in the Midwest and Northeast. Other energy companies have announced similar plans as well.

Moving our nation’s trucks to natural gas makes economic and environmental sense. This market currently consumes 30 billion gallons of diesel annually, much of which is imported. A conversion to natural gas could represent huge savings for shippers, carriers and eventually consumers, given the high cost of diesel. For those concerned about the environment, NGVs emit up to 30 percent less greenhouse gas than gasoline or diesel vehicles.

But while the industry is capable of and willing to do much of the heavy lifting, it is imperative that we have the support of community leaders, lawmakers and public policies to continue to grow our infrastructure and encourage further development.

The federal government can lead by example and transition its large fleet of vehicles to natural gas, like many local and state governments are already doing with great success.

Congress is starting to answer the call by looking to update the federal transportation tax that currently taxes cleaner, American LNG at a higher rate than dirtier, foreign diesel. It can also extend the Volumetric Excise Tax Credit for multiple years to enable businesses to plan with long-term certainty and offer tax incentives for companies to purchase trucks running on American natural gas rather than foreign diesel.

Many bipartisan leaders in Congress have recognized the potential of natural gas as a transportation fuel in America. The United States has been called the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” It’s inconceivable to be sitting on a resource of this size and to not be using it to its full political, economic and environmental advantage here in this country.

We are a forward-looking country, and natural gas is certainly our fuel for the future, and that future is now.

Andrew J. Littlefair is president and CEO of Clean Energy Fuels Corp. based in Seal Beach, Calif.

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