Natural Gas Vehicles and the EPA

Much has been written in the media lately about EPA regulations that intend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Might the EPA start by considering something that reduces the scope of government and greenhouse gas emissions? Vehicles can be converted such that they can run on compressed or liquid natural gas (CNG or LNG), which produces fewer GHGs than petroleum.

Given recent natural gas discoveries which have pushed prices lower, this might even be a natural market process if it weren’t for burdensome licensing requirements. The licensing of natural gas vehicle conversions are prohibitively expensive, with some estimates ranging up to $200,000 per engine class.

This estimate claims that licensing is even more expensive than listed above, as they must be consistently renewed and licenses only apply to a narrow range of vehicles. As a result, the equipment and installations required to allow your vehicle to run on natural gas are also expensive, ranging from $12,000 to $25,000 — rarely worth it for the average consumers. Though note that there are numerous high-mileage buses and delivery fleet vehicles that use natural gas, as it saves money.

This is yet another unfortunately example of what happens when the government steers and asks the market to row. The biggest alternative to petroleum is split between electric vehicles and biofuels. Both biofuels and electric vehicles have received enormous federal subsidies. Natural gas vehicles receive some (modest) subsidies, yet sit under costly and confusing regulations. As a result, the market has produced billions of gallons of harmful biofuels, which few outside of the political class support publicly. Despite all of this, there appears to be approximately 1,000 natural gas fueling stations in the United States, compared to approximately 2500 E-85 stations.

Unfortunately, few government agencies ever have the incentive to let go of responsibilities (“this is something we probably shouldn’t regulate so heavily”), even in situations where it would help fulfill their “mission”, as it reduces their relevance, budget, etc.