Tag Archives: alternative fuel

The “LNG Fix” Becomes Law

6 Aug

The federal government’s bureaucratic and sometimes Byzantine procedures for enacting new laws can achieve the proper results. It may not be pretty or swift, but it does work.

Case in point. In the closing days of July, immediately before an existing deadline, both houses of Congress passed and President Obama signed another stopgap highway bill (H.R. 3236) that extended funding for much need highway and transportation projects through October 29th.

Included in H.R. 3236 was an obscure revenue provision equalizing excise tax rates for liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas (“LNG”), and compressed natural gas—the so-called “LNG fix.”

The LNG fix provision, buried among a host of other disparate add-ons, was the culmination of years of effort by the natural gas vehicle industry to eliminate the unfair disadvantage of taxing LNG used as a vehicle fuel. This anomaly placed a significant financial burden on high horsepower vehicle operators (especially long-haul truckers) switching from diesel to LNG.

During the last five years, driven by tighter emission standards and the enormous volumes and lower prices for natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, both compressed natural gas (“CNG”) and LNG have made tremendous strides in penetrating the high horsepower engine fuels market. Because LNG burns cleaner, is lower in cost compared to petroleum alternatives, and now reliably produced domestically, it has become an attractive fuel for heavy-duty tucks, rail locomotives, and maritime vessels.

Traditionally, the federal excise tax on liquid fuels is assessed on a “cents per gallon” basis. The federal excise tax for both LNG and diesel is 24.3 cents per gallon. The federal excise tax on CNG is 18.3 cents per energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of a straight “cents per gallon” tax methodology creates a problem when the energy content of the alternative fuel is significantly different. The fuel containing less energy per gallon is disadvantaged because a greater volume must be used to get the same amount of energy output.

Specifically, LNG has an energy content of about 74,700 Btu per gallon while diesel’s is about 128,700 Btu per gallon. In order to get the same energy output, you use more gallons of LNG in comparison to diesel, hence you pay more in federal excise taxes. For LNG, it means effectively paying what amounts to 41.3 cents per gallon of LNG or nearly 70% more than diesel.

Similarly, propane produces only 72% of the energy output of gasoline, but is taxed at the same 18.3 cents per gallon rate.

The new “LNG fix” tax rate will become effective on January 1, 2016. By taxing the fuels based on an energy equivalent rather than a pure volumetric basis, tax parity is achieved. This then allows both LNG and diesel to be taxed at the same 24.3 cents per gallon, but it’s a diesel gallon equivalent (“DGE”). In other words, the cents per a gallon having the energy equivalent of a gallon of diesel.

The cost difference is not inconsequential. For an LNG fueled truck travelling 100,000 miles each year using 20,000 DGE, the annual fuel tax under the existing code is $8,262. Under the new energy equivalent tax code, the operator will pay $4,860 annually or $3,402 less per year.

As our country takes steps to reduce air emissions from road vehicles, locomotives, and marine vessels and realize the economic advantages of our lower cost, reliable, domestically produced fuels, building tax parity among fuel alternatives is the right thing to do. This change in the tax code doesn’t ensure that LNG will replace petroleum based liquid fuel, it simply levels the playing field.

It also proves that despite what may be a convoluted legislative process, persistence and reason can sometimes overcome Washington’s political partisanship and gridlock to deliver beneficial results for all of us. We will all benefit from the “LNG fix” for years to come.

Mr. President…Congratulations! You’ll need more energy this term.

10 Nov

 

Congratulations Mr. President. You pulled off an incredible election win, defying the pundits and earning another four years in the White House.

Let’s face it though, your election win is historic because it was the most money ever spent to maintain the status quo. The operation of the Constitution through the Electoral College gives the appearance of an impressive victory, but the popular vote belies that result. You weren’t handed a mandate and you face virtually the same hopelessly deadlocked Congress. Wall Street isn’t exuberant either.

Nevertheless, savor the moment. But, you’ll need to keep the victory lap short.

Clearly, your most pressing agenda item is the dreaded “fiscal cliff.” You’ll likely be spending a good deal of time ensuring that our financial problems don’t morph into another Greek-style economic crisis. Along the way, you’ll probably attempt to implement some spending cuts and tax reforms, tweak Obama care, face down the Iranians, strike a few more al-Qaeda, and keep China and Russia in check . If you stop to think about it, the global financial collapsed you faced on your first day on the job back in January 2009, looks like just another day at the office.

So where can you boost the energy level, build a few bi-partisan bridges, and increase the prospects for a successful encore term? Try energy. No, not one of those caffeinated drinks so popular with the millennials. (By the way, don’t let Sasha or Malia get a taste for those.) Real energy.

OK, energy wasn’t your strong suit during the first term. You promised to stop the rise in sea level, create a green economy,  implement Cap and Trade, support carbon-free technologies, promote clean coal, unleash the hounds of enforcement at EPA, and promote zero emission electric vehicles.

What you ended up with was spending a few billion dollars on Solyndra, EnerOne, Tesla Motors, et. al., a green job drain to countries such as China and Sweden, Cap and Trade buried by the economy and Congress, threats to bankrupt new coal-fired power plants, about 10,000 Chevy Volts sold, the BP blowout, and a few million homeless residents living without power on the New Jersey and New York shoreline. But that one doesn’t count because it was caused by an errant hurricane, not an anthropogenic rise in sea level.

Yet, believe it or not, energy could be a bright spot this time around. Take advantage of what’s happening in the sector and reach across the isle. I’ll bet that you’ll find more than a few hands extended to you. While you don’t have the budget or political clout to inaugurate grand programs, you can achieve some near-term wins and lay the foundation for realistic future advances. Besides, working families and businesses will thank you for keeping their utility bills and gasoline budget in check.

What’s behind this vision? For starters, domestic oil and gas production has rebounded as a result of hydraulic fracturing. There is a real prospect to import less foreign oil as a result. Jobs of all kind are being created to support the boom in domestic production. The new supplies have driven down the price for natural gas spurring private sector investment in more affordable alternatives to diesel and gasoline. Finally, because it’s displacing coal in power generation, cleaner burning natural gas is reducing the country’s Green House Gas (“GHG”) emissions despite the defeat of Cap and Trade.

So, what should the second Obama Administration do to capitalize on this situation? The fiscal cliff, stubbornly high unemployment, and anemic GDP are casting dark clouds over every aspect of this term. Energy is no exception. Just remember three simple words: Plentiful, Affordable, Reliable.

Start by recognizing that now is not the time to press Congress for climate change programs, a new carbon tax, Cap and Trade, or spending on green washed programs of any type. You need not abandon your long-term desire heal the planet, but the first order of business is to heal the economy. Besides, you have breathing room on GHG emissions since they are currently headed in the right direction, even though it’s for all the wrong reasons. Don’t ever forget that working families and businesses are paying for those GHG reductions with job losses and budget cuts.

Continue exploiting natural gas. It’s creating more jobs than any other business sector, bringing down the cost of heat and light, providing a sustainable competitive advantage to domestic chemical and fertilizer producers, driving private sector investment as an alternative vehicle fuel, and is the most effective means of implementing real progress on reducing CO2 emissions today.

Develop domestic oil. Just as with natural gas, hydraulic fracturing in oil production could yield massive changes in how we meet our demand for oil. Other technological advances promise to unleash vast quantities of shale oil that some estimates place at nearly 5 times greater than the reserves of Saudi Arabia. Don’t deny the country the benefits of access to our domestic resources by limiting exploration and production to private lands.  Pursuing your “all of the above” strategy should include “all that’s below.”

Stop unnecessary regulatory initiatives that create duplicative, burdensome barriers to growth. To be sure, government regulations are needed to protect public health, safety, and the environment. With the advances in extractive technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and shale oil recovery, regulations must evolve to be effective. Since many oil and gas industry accidents are low probability, high impact events, the industry is subject to the most comprehensive regulation and oversight imaginable. These are oftentimes administered at both the federal and state level. That’s why intelligent regulation, not simply more red tape should be the rule.

Obviously, these changes in our energy supply picture will provide significant national security advantages at a time when the global neighborhood isn’t becoming a friendlier place for the US. But energy independence is a political statement not a policy. Look, instead, to increasing our energy stability and security. Take a North American rather than a parochial US view of our national energy security.

Canadian oil is as secure as our own production and we should do our best to ensure that our neighbor prefers doing business with us. Likewise, a North American view recognizes that the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas doesn’t stop at the Rio Grande river. Similarly, Mexico shares the Gulf with us and they have yet to adequately develop their offshore resources. Rather than looking for ways to build a bigger fence, we should be working with Mexico to build their energy industry. If oil and gas production can create jobs and support the economies of the US, Canada, and Mexico, a fence may become superfluous.

Finally, promote the energy initiative that yields the biggest return on investment of any energy source or program – efficiency. Intelligent conservation and efficiency measures such as home insulation, white roofs, or efficient light bulbs aren’t exciting or attention grabbing, but yield immediate and sustainable results today. Besides, you can’t argue with the saying, “a gallon saved is a gallon not imported.”

The good news, Mr. President, is that you still have some very good energy options to pursue. Even in the face of our severe fiscal and economic challenges, energy can make inroads to economic recovery and national security. Take advantage of the plentiful, affordable, reliable energy supplies available today, champion intelligent regulation, and promote energy efficiency. While these may not be seen as significant legacy initiatives, sometimes leadership demands a steady hand and a workmanlike focus on the fundamentals. That’s exactly what this nation’s working families and businesses could use right now.