While the governor took a red pen to lawmakers’ projects statewide, he left Lafayette-based initiatives alone, including a whopping $1 million earmark to promote compressed natural gas in the parish.
Make no mistake: Gov. Bobby Jindal is on the CNG bandwagon. For those of you not keeping track at home, that’s compressed natural gas — and interests in Lafayette ranging from the chamber to Acadiana’s legislative delegation are all ga-ga for it, as they should be. With an economic depression settling over the Gulf of Mexico in terms of exploration, Lafayette is positioned to be a case study for converting public vehicles to run on CNG.
For his part, Jindal left whole a $1 million budget earmark this session for Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government to move forward with CNG infrastructure, construction, fueling stations, pipelines and the purchase of CNG vehicles. When it comes to alternative fuels and green options, it’s the future — now.
CNG is made when natural gas, the same stuff Louisiana’s existing drilling rigs are pulling, is compressed to less than 1 percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure. Many of the vehicles on the market that run on CNG have canisters in the rear end, meaning a switch can be flipped to make the vehicle run on conventional gas or CNG. Overall, it’s about 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than the gas you get at the pump today.
Carmakers like Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen are already producing such CNG vehicles, but only Honda has a model that’s 100 percent CNG. On the state and federal level, there are tax credits available for consumers to convert their existing vehicles. There’s also a $5,000 tax credit for purchasing a full-on CNG model, like the Honda Civic GX.
Additionally, due to their lower emissions, CNG-powered public buses are becoming more common throughout the U.S. In California, for example, CNG fleets are taking over city and county operations. Rep. Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge, who is not affiliated with any party, passed a resolution during the session directing the departments of environmental quality and transportation to study the feasibility of using CNG buses in mass transit applications in Louisiana. The findings are expected by the end of the year.
In Shreveport, city officials have already used federal money to buy buses that will run off CNG mined from the local Haynesville Shale area. The Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group, meanwhile, is carrying out a state contract to convert other mass transit options and school buses.
Last week, Jindal also endorsed Senate Bill 103 by Sens. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville, and Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, which creates the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Revolving Loan Fund Program. The initiative will be fully online by July 1, functioning within the Department of Natural Resources. In theory, this fund would provide financial assistance to local governments to help them convert their current fleets to clean fuel vehicles.
There’s only one glaring problem: there’s no actual money available for the fund. “There’s no state appropriation for this,” says Michot, although his home parish has $1 million to get rolling. If Lafayette Parish has anyone to thank for the earmark, it’s Michot, who serves in Jindal’s leadership as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. While Jindal vetoed millions of dollars worth of earmarks from lawmakers who are either low on the totem pole or who have an adversarial relationship with the administration, Lafayette’s pet projects were left alone.
In coming years, Gautreaux says the fund could be filled with federal dollars. In fact, there is already some evidence that the federal government might be willing to free up money for the cause. For example, part of the federal stimulus package that was unveiled last year included millions of dollars for Louisiana to introduce CNG as an alternative fuel.
While money for a state-run program is a challenge right now, so is infrastructure. California is on the cutting edge of this new technology but has only 100 or so filling stations for its converted vehicles. And last month, Oklahoma’s governor signed a bill into law that calls for establishing a CNG station every 100 miles of interstate highway by 2015 and every 50 miles by 2025. Supporters agree that Louisiana will have to catch up to make a real play, and Lafayette could be at the forefront of that effort.
To be certain, the parish has several balls in the air. Aside from Jindal’s $1 million lump sum, Houston-based Apache Oil, which has an office in Lafayette, has vowed to construct a filling station here. The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, working in concert with UL and parish officials, is likewise behind a consortium pushing to build another three fueling stations for public vehicles through grant work and applications to the Federal Transit Administration. University Avenue is the target, since it already has nearby natural gas lines.
Given the ban on new exploration in the Gulf, the timing has never been better for CNG in Louisiana, especially as the Haynesville Shale continues to outpace expectations. Just consider that the U.S. has been increasingly dependent on foreign oil to supply its energy needs since the 1950s, with more than 60 percent of the supply now being imported — and that Louisiana has an abundance of natural gas.
When Scott Angelle, the state’s natural resources secretary who has temporarily vacated the position to serve as lieutenant governor for a few months, attended the groundbreaking of a CNG fueling station south of Ruston last year, he framed the argument concisely in a way that still resonates. “I believe we are in the golden age of natural gas, and facilities such as this can be the beginning of how that change gains momentum,” Angelle said. “This is an opportunity for Louisiana to take the lead in showing the rest of our nation that it can be done and how it should be done.”
Jeremy Alford can be reached at
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.