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  • Drivers Don’t Need a Mandate for Choice

    If a mandate for choice sounds oxymoronic, it’s because it is.  But that’s what policymakers want for our vehicle fleet.  Policymakers will convince you what they’re doing will promote markets and competition and that it will benefit the consumers.  You won’t be paying $4 per gallon and we won’t be buying foreign oil.  That’s the rhetoric you’re hearing as Congress rolls out legislation to promote natural gas vehicles.   But it is legislation that won’t help the American consumer or the American taxpayer and the reason we have less natural gas vehicles on the road today is the result of competition, not the absence of it. Consumers prefer cars and trucks that run on conventional gasoline and diesel.

    The New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions of 2011, or NAT GAS Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of House Members (John Sullivan (R-OK) Dan Boren (D-OK) John Larson (D-CT) and Kevin Brady (R-TX),  would provide special tax breaks and handouts for the production and purchase of natural gas vehicles as well as refueling infrastructure.

    T. Boone Pickens, a supporter of the bill and huge proponent of natural gas, who spoke at an energy forum at Oklahoma State University last week.   Pickens made it known that he owns a Honda Civic GX that runs on natural gas and proudly claimed, “I fuel it in my garage at night and it’s less than a $1 a gallon, and you’re getting ready to pay $4 a gallon.”

    That $1 a gallon sounds like incentive enough to switch from your traditional source fuel to natural gas, so why the need for all the handouts? If natural gas vehicles are economically competitive with gasoline, vehicle manufacturers will make them and consumers will switch over without the taxpayers’ help. If natural gas interests are so sure of the technology, they should invest their money to build the business.  After all, that is the process that has given us the many products and services that we enjoy today that rely on gas power.

    It was not well intentioned bureaucrats frustrated with the charcoal monopoly that gave us gas grills.  Politicians tired of constituents having to shovel coal and chop wood to warm their homes are not who brought us gas furnaces. And it wasn’t Washington policymakers that forced power companies to start building natural gas power plants.  In each case, investors recognized the value that gas power brought in meeting consumer demand.  They didn’t need Washington to mandate choice. Consumers were capable of driving the market place on their own.

    A full-fledged competitive natural gas vehicle fleet may eventually happen – just not as fast as natural gas producers and investors want. When the government selects political winners and tries to force technologies into the marketplace with subsidies, mandates and preferential tax credits, it’s usually a good indicator that the technology is a not yet economically competitive.

    Of course, it’s not just natural gas that wants “consumer protection.”  The National Propane Gas Association says, “The bill is designed to boost the number of alternative fuel vehicles on America’s roads, but it is actually only a half-measure because it excludes propane autogas vehicles.”  The ethanol and biofuels industry would say it’s only a half-measure because it doesn’t mandate automakers to make a certain percentage of flex-fuel vehicles.  Proponents of electric vehicles say the same.

    There’s plenty of technologies already developed to promote competition and the one that emerges to provide a consistently affordable alternative to gasoline won’t need the help of the government because the profits will be enough.  The problem with these technologies is not a lack of competition, but as The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Marlo Lewis says, it is “simply a competitive outcome they dislike.”

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Drivers Don’t Need a Mandate for Choice

    1. Chris, N. Va. says:

      Example of mandated choice:

      Re: a "good news-bad news" joke circa 1970s.

      WWII concentration camp, wherein the Kommandant proclaims to the assembled POWs, "I haff ze goot news und ze bad news today. First, ze goot news. Today, after 6 months in zis camp, you vill all haff ze opportunity to change your undervear!"

      Cheers and applause resound.

      "Und now ze bad news."

      The Kommandant gazes back and forth, pointing in different directions, "You vill change vis you, und you vill change vis you, und…"

      *** Mandated choice ain't all it's cracked up to be ***

    2. Hugh Pecon Phoenix A says:

      Nicolas, great article. It is so true. Almost every time the government gets involved in the free market it just screws things up and ends up costing the tax payers a lot of money. Not to mention it is flat out unconstitutional. If we just stick to the fundamental truths in the constitution we could eliminate 99% of our problems.

      One fundamental truth of good government is that government should protect equal rights, NOT provide equal things. The federal government can only use the tax payers money for the general welfare of the country. They can NOT use it to fund specific groups or interests. You cannot give money to one group without violating the rights of another. The constitution has the answers to all of todays questions. We just have to get back to and restore those fundamental truths in that great document.

    3. ricp, Buffalo NY says:

      If the fools in this administration were serious about alternative fuels they would have, at least, made GM & Chrysler offer natural gas powered cars as an option for people to choose when they bought a new car. Offering such a choice in, say, a Suburban with similar horsepower ratings and $1.00/ gallon fuel pricing would be like selling cold beer at a ball game in July!

      Also if the market was there people would, as the author says, vote with their wallets and Ford and Toyota and others would get in the game over time as well. There is an approximate $2500 – $4000 premium for such engine conversions but given the savings it can pay for itself in 2-3 years.

      We don't need any more subsidies from the government but we do need some good old visionary business leaders to take a risk; offering this option by the regular auto makers would prove or disprove the whole idea soon enough.

    4. Bobbie says:

      That's right! We don't need a boost and we don't need insult from government to choose for us when it comes to our personal needs, wants and variety of choice when it comes to our personal lifestyles and means. It should be illegal if not highly unethical for government to be involved WITH AUTHORITY AND competing AGAINST the businesses and or innovation of the private sector USING tax money FROM the private sector to EXIST AND USE AGAINST!

      For government to subsidize any business AND OR PROMOTE any business is favoritism, discrimination AND EXTORTION of tax dollars money! there need be no funding for this fraud.

      ps the natural gas vehicle does sound exciting!

      • ronwagn says:

        Heritage could do a lot to promote natural gas vehicles. So far it has done nothing. The EPA wants to control them even though they are far cleaner, and competition to gasoline, from CNG, would moderate the gasoline prices we pay.

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    7. ronwagn says:

      The Heritage foundation has done nothing to force the EPA to drop expensive fees and roadblocks to converting existing or new vehicles to natural gas. Natural gas vehicles can do more for our economy than anything else right now. If the EPA would get out of the way people could get used vehicles converted legally for low prices. We have spent hundreds of billions to secure Middle East oil supplies, but Heritage opposes a few billion to jump start this vital American industry.

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