A set of bills that promote natural gas as an alternative fuel and urge more drilling was adopted by lawmakers last week, building off of momentum that has sprouted up during the last two regular sessions.   

For starters, the Senate Natural Resources Committee endorsed the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Revolving Loan Fund Program Thursday, which would be placed within the Department of Natural Resources. In theory, this fund would provide financial assistance to local governments to help them convert their current fleet of vehicles to clean fuel vehicles.

There’s only one glaring problem with Senate Bill 103 by Sens. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville and Mike Michot, R-Lafayette: there’s no actual money available for the fund. “There’s no state appropriation for this,” says Michot. “But we’re looking around for something. Right now, we can just go ahead and have the fund ready.”

“We could also put federal money in it, too, if and when it becomes available,” Gautreaux adds.

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 compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel. In Shreveport, city officials have used some of the money to buy buses that will run off compressed natural gas mined from the local Haynesville Shale area and recent finds in the Gulf of Mexico have officials looking to make moves further south as well. Additionally, the Shaw Group is carrying out a state contract to convert other mass transit and school buses.

As a way to piggyback on all of these efforts, Louisiana lawmakers also approved tax credits in 2009 for private individuals who want to convert their vehicle to take compressed natural gas. In a matter of speaking, the bill by Gautreaux and Michot keeps the ball rolling.

Compressed natural gas, also known as CNG, is a fossil fuel substitute that’s on average 50-percent cheaper than gas. The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association as well as the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association have called it an integral part of the Bayou State’s future.

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; supporters agree that Louisiana will have to catch up to make a real play.

In related action last week, the Senate Transportation Committee also approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 8 by Sen. John R. Smith, D-Leesville. The resolution urges Congress to “support expansion and use of domestic natural gas and alternative energies, and urge agencies to operate vehicles using compressed natural gas.”

The U.S. Department of Energy indicates that compressed natural gas can be used as a replacement for gasoline in most vehicles and it discharges far fewer harmful emissions than vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel fuel. Smith said the federal government currently provides, and is expected to increase, incentives for use of alternative fuels and, at the current price of various fuels, any additional costs to purchase vehicles to run on compressed natural gas would be quickly recouped.

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