Government should not pick energy winners and losers

State government agencies across the country are finalizing plans to spend their share of a $2.7 billion settlement in the wake of the national Volkswagen emissions scandal, negotiated and settled by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.

From Florida to Ohio to Texas to California, all fifty states have been awarded a share, and each state’s governor has appointed an agency to come up with a plan to spend the funds to mitigate the air pollution caused by VW’s faulty vehicles.

Most importantly, each state agency will have a lot of leeway to set the rules of their plan. The settlement as negotiated by the EPA includes some serious flaws that limit the potential of the money.

As each state releases drafts of their plans, the public will have a chance to weigh in. That’s where you come in. Here’s what you need to know to advise your state to pass a plan that corrects the mistakes of the Obama EPA and gets your state on the right track.

First, the settlement as negotiated by the EPA permits states to allow grants for private sector electric vehicles (EVs) for up to 75 percent of the cost, while all other fuel types are capped at 25 percent. Make no mistake, this is crony capitalism. Government should not pick winners and losers, in the public or private sectors. But, even after Obama has left the White House, that’s exactly what the states are allowing as they carry this favoritism over into their own plans.

Luckily, this is an easy fix. I’m a free market guy, but I’m for free AND fair markets. Let all fuels compete on an even playing field, and let the best fuels – economically and environmentally – win. Don’t let your state suffer from government favoritism — ask the agency in charge of your state’s plan to level the funding cap for all fuel types at 25 percent of the cost.

On an even playing field, it’s obvious that there is no economic or environmental case to play favorites with EVs. Natural gas vehicles are more cost-effective and have been shown to be just as clean as EVs – or cleaner, if you factor in the fossil fuels used in electric generation.

Moreover, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas accounts for 29 percent of U.S. energy consumption, while nuclear electric power is only 9 percent. Natural gas is likely helping to generate electricity already — think of the efficiency it would save if we simply put money toward using natural gas directly to run heavy-duty vehicle fleets instead.

Not to mention, EVs have had their share of problems. An LA Times investigation found that the city’s electric buses have demonstrated a number of performance and mechanical issues. A Chinese battery manufacturer had promised local officials clean buses and vehicles, and nine years and $330 million later, they are left with buses that can’t run more than a hundred miles. The Times concludes that the EV industry “has struggled to make buses that run as reliably and cheaply as the fleets they seek to replace.”

I have said since the earliest days of my Pickens Plan in 2008 that a battery wouldn’t power an 18-wheeler. Natural gas can, however, and it is both more readily available and just as clean. From a national security perspective as well, I would rather not shift our dependence on foreign oil to a dependence on the Chinese battery. I’d have America use its own resources as we transition to the energies of tomorrow.

A new study by the Center for Environmental Research and Technology at the University of California showed than an ultra-low emission natural gas heavy-duty engine achieved and maintained California’s lowest emissions standard. From buses and trash trucks to heavy-duty vehicles hauling and moving goods, natural gas engines performed steadily and consistently met or exceeded California’s lowest emissions standards.

Natural gas is, without question, the best bet for your state’s money. Don’t let your state carry through the Obama favoritism at the expense of the most efficient and cost-effective plan.

With this recommendation, your state should be able to maximize the benefits of its spending plan. By leveling the playing field for all fuels, each state can ensure that its allotment is spent cost-effectively. Cheaper solutions mean more vehicles for less money. This helps achieve the intended environmental goals of the settlement more quickly and more fully. 

By adopting these recommendations, all fifty states, for their own benefit and for the benefit of the county, can move more quickly, economically and efficiently to a cleaner environment and more secure energy future.