Natural-gas vehicles plan sputters in Senate

The Senate rejected the plan that Reid, Menendez and Burr introduced as a separate bill in late 2011. Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) is the lead sponsor of House natural-gas vehicles legislation.

The plans aim to curb oil demand by greatly expanding use of natural gas as a transportation fuel, including in the oil-thirsty heavy trucking industry.

The Senate plan would have expanded credits for purchasing natural-gas cars and trucks, provided credits for producing the vehicles and extended credits for natural-gas fueling infrastructure, among other provisions.

But the proposals have drawn heavy pushback from a number of conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as well as chemical companies and other industries reliant on natural gas as a manufacturing feedstock.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told E2 last week that he opposes the plans, dimming their prospects in that chamber.

The conservative groups say the incentives are not needed and represent undue meddling in energy markets. And some environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace also opposed the amendment.

“By providing billions in tax subsidies, the NAT GAS Act interferes in the marketplace to favor natural gas over other transportation and energy technologies that may be more cost-effective or sustainable,” states a letter to senators Tuesday from a coalition of strange bedfellows that includes Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Greenpeace, Americans for Prosperity and others.

The natural-gas bills have also fueled a clash between Pickens and Koch Industries, the Kansas-based conglomerate helmed by billionaire brothers who are active in conservative causes.