NGVs and America’s National On-Road Transportation Policy

“We have less than ten years to change our fossil fuel dependency course in significant ways. Our nation’s security depends on the swift, serious, and thoughtful response to the inter-linked challenges of energy security and climate change.” —Vice Admiral McGinn

Our dependence on foreign oil is one of our country's most pervasive problems. It distorts our foreign and military policy, contributes to global warming and urban air pollution, worsens our balance of trade, weakens our economy, and costs us jobs here at home. It also threatens our national security by helping to fund a worldwide terrorist network.

Since the oil crises of the 1970s, we’ve done a great job reducing the amount of oil used in residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Where we've done a poor job is in transportation. This has to change, and change quickly. We should be investing in the research and development of long-term solutions like hydrogen and the conversion of biomass into transportation fuels. These fuels may ultimately play a major role in America's transportation fuel mix, but we don't have time for the fruits of this research to come to market. We need a viable alternative now. Fortunately, we have an alternative in clean, abundant, and secure domestically produced natural gas.

Recent technological advances and improved production methods have allowed producers to tap into North America's tremendous natural gas reserves. America's proven reserves have grown so large that a major shift in the global energy balance is taking place. We are now the world's largest producer of natural gas, and some have responded by calling North America the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” America's natural gas reserves have the potential to power our vehicles and our economy for decades to come.

Right now there are thousands of urban-based vehicles—trash trucks, delivery trucks, transit buses, school buses, port vehicles, airport vehicles, and shuttle vans—operating around the country on clean natural gas. Our economic well-being is based on the ability to distribute products and goods cost-effectively and on time, making these and other heavy-duty vehicles the backbone of our economy. We should be encouraging the use of natural gas and other non-petroleum fuels in these vehicles. If more of these urban vehicles made the switch, it would displace a substantial amount of the oil we import, and it would protect our economy from the vagaries of foreign oil policies.

A growing network of fueling locations has encouraged automakers to manufacture and market natural gas vehicles in the U.S. There is also a growing number of options for converting light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles to use natural gas. These positive trends are making it easier than ever for consumers to be a part of the solution, while they save at the pump.

The technology and economic incentives are here today. We simply need the leadership and individual will to make it happen. The President has made the commitment to invest in natural gas and alternative fuel vehicles in his “Blueprint to Make the Most of America's Energy Resources.” A number of state governments (such as Oklahoma, Louisiana, and West Virginia) now also have financial incentives in place to buy NGVs. This government support is making NGVs even more economically attractive and is helping to bring these vehicles to the market faster. Now it's up to the decision-makers of private and public fleets to act.

There are some cases where we will have to continue using gasoline and diesel fuel. Where this is the case, we should use it as efficiently as possible. Hybrid vehicles—including plug-in hybrids—are one option, and we should encourage their manufacture, purchase, and use. We also can blend more alcohol fuels into each gallon of petroleum. Every gasoline vehicle on the road is capable of operating on 10 percent ethanol made from corn and other crops. Every diesel vehicle on the road can operate on a small blend of biodiesel made from waste oil and soybeans. Use of these farm-fuel blends should be encouraged, as they can significantly increase the number of miles per gallon of petroleum-based fuels. However, in most cases, gasoline and diesel are not required, and natural gas should be used instead.

For the last 100 years, the world has had the good fortune to have an ample supply of cheap, secure oil. This era of easy oil is likely over. We may be fortunate enough to find a silver-bullet, sustainable solution to our energy needs in the future, but we cannot afford to wait idly by for this to happen. We need to pursue all available alternatives today. We need to use all our non-petroleum fuel options in areas and applications where they are most appropriate. If we act aggressively now, we can break our addiction to foreign oil.