A natural partnership for energy independence

Editors note: The following is an op-ed writting by Gov. Mary Fallin and Gov. John Hickenlooper​

Partisan gridlock may be a permanent feature of our nation’s capital, but it is a particularly alarming one when it prevents the creation of a sensible national energy policy that would ensure the long-term ability of Americans to power their businesses, heat their homes and access affordable transportation. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening, and it has left us with an endless cycle of rising energy prices and an addiction to foreign oil produced by foreign dictatorships.

Washington may be unable to get its act together, but state leaders are unwilling to allow our energy policy to be defined by inaction. Collaboration was a tradition of the Old West, where there were far more barn-raisings than shootouts. As the chief executives of Oklahoma and Colorado, we have had the privilege of continuing that tradition of cooperation and have joined with 12 other governors in signing an agreement to deploy compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles in state fleets. Uninhibited by partisanship, we have reached across state and party lines to work collaboratively on an initiative that is aimed toward job creation, energy security, environmental sustainability and affordable energy.

As the governors of these 14 diverse states are united in the goal of increasing the use of CNG vehicles, we are seeking to deploy more cost-efficient cars and trucks in our state fleets while simultaneously boosting demand for natural gas and encouraging the development of more CNG infrastructure. CNG vehicles will become widely accepted only if multiple pieces fall into place simultaneously: deployment of vehicles that run on this fuel, an increase in CNG filling stations, and increased availability of the fuel itself. To meet these ends, we contacted auto manufacturers in the U.S., gas-station owners and natural gas producers.

Last month, we traveled to Detroit to meet with Chrysler, General Motors and Ford to encourage manufacturers to participate in our cross-state effort to deploy more CNG vehicles. This meeting follows up on a letter the states sent this spring to vehicle manufacturers, the first formal step in implementing the multistate agreement. That agreement seeks to leverage our collective state-fleet purchasing power to encourage automakers to develop a functional and affordable CNG passenger vehicle that also will meet public demand.

The United States leads the world in natural gas production, yet in 2011, we ranked 16th in the world in the use of CNG automobiles, behind countries such as Bangladesh, Argentina and Iran. Much of that can be attributed to limited options for U.S. consumers when it comes to affordable CNG cars. We think the purchasing power of 14 state fleets, however, can be the catalyst necessary to make the manufacturing of CNG passenger vehicles a cost-effective and competitive endeavor for carmakers. This week, Washington is expected to release Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for light-duty vehicles. Those rules will impact the way cars and trucks are manufactured for years to come. We hope those rules remain technology-neutral to encourage the production of natural gas vehicles and ultimately enable consumers to choose when it comes to alternative-fuel technologies.

Our efforts also emphasize continued expansion of natural gas fueling infrastructure. Colorado and Oklahoma both have seen significant growth in the number of natural gas fueling stations, which create jobs and provide access to a fuel that in some cases is as much as $2 cheaper than gasoline. It’s our hope that our own fleet purchases will enable us to work with retailers to establish the demand necessary to make future natural gas fueling stations economical and provide consumers with more places to refuel their CNG cars and trucks.

Already, many of our own businesses and vehicle fleets are realizing the opportunities and benefits of compressed natural gas. In Colorado, the Roaring Forks Transportation Authority recently announced that the nation’s first rural bus-rapid-transit service will be running exclusively on compressed natural gas; the transition is expected to save the authority more than $650,000 a year in fuel expenses alone and provide a hedge against wildly fluctuating diesel prices. In Oklahoma, the state’s largest natural gas utility has added 600 CNG vehicles to its fleet, generating an annual cost savings of almost $1 million in fuel consumption. Companies across Oklahoma are making similar transitions in order to operate more efficiently and cut costs. State governments can and should do the same.

Oklahoma and Colorado alone manage a combined 20,000 vehicles in our state fleets, many of which are overdue for replacement. While not all of those vehicles will be candidates for natural gas replacements, the 14 states that are participating in our agreement can make large strides in leading by example. By engaging in partnerships with vehicle manufacturers, fuel retailers and natural gas producers, we can develop an economically viable alternative to our oil dependence and promote a clean-burning, American-made fuel. We hope our recent trip to Detroit is the start of an exciting new collaboration that paves the way toward a more secure and economical energy future for the United States.

Gov. Mary Fallin is an Oklahoma Republican. Gov. John Hickenlooper is a Colorado Democrat.

This article was first published by The Washington Times.

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