Cantor opposes natural-gas vehicles bill, dimming prospects

Billionaire energy magnate T. Boone Pickens has long waged an aggressive PR campaign in favor of providing billions of dollars in tax credits to spur natural gas-powered trucking.

The idea has a number of Democratic and Republican backers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who co-sponsored legislation the Senate amendment is based on with Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) sponsored a bipartisan House version of the legislation last year.

But Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, on Thursday called it bad policy.

“Given the situation that we have with the budget and given the fact that natural gas prices are now at least at a 10-year low, I don’t even see the sense in that policy, not to mention just the overall aspect of Washington coming in, picking winners and losers, that’s what we are trying to get away from,” he said.

A suite of conservative groups including Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action (an arm of the Heritage Foundation), the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Freedom Action and the Club for Growth oppose the tax credits, calling the proposal unneeded government meddling into energy markets.

“Natural gas prices are at historically low levels. This means that major companies are already investing in building the infrastructure needed to fuel natural gas vehicles,” the group’s said in a letter to senators this week ahead of the amendment vote.

“The goals of the NAT GAS Act are being achieved by the free market without the additional government involvement mandated by the NAT GAS Act,” the letter states.

While Sullivan’s bill introduced a year ago has a bipartisan mix of 181 co-sponsors, a campaign against the measure by conservative groups had eroded some support. Twenty Republicans have withdrawn their sponsorship since last May.

Backers of the plan say it's a way to boost energy security by using ample domestic gas supplies to displace oil imports. Pickens touted the natural-gas bill in a letter to The Wall Street Journal this week.

“There are about 8 million heavy trucks in the U.S. If we moved all of them from burning diesel to running on natural gas tomorrow, we would reduce imports by 3 million barrels a day. At $105 per barrel, that's $315 million per day we can recycle into the U.S. economy rather than sending it to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

President Obama touted his own plans for natural-gas vehicle tax credits in a speech Wednesday. A White House spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment on the Senate proposal.