We’re using the wrong kind of gas

Rising gas prices are threatening to smother the nascent economic recovery. Meanwhile, Washington remains locked in its endless dance, lacking the vision to see the glaringly obvious solution to America’s energy problems. Increasing supply with new exploration and pipelines is certainly part of the answer, as are curbs on speculation in energy markets. But the real solution is staring us in the face: cheap, abundant, domestically produced natural gas.

Thanks to new technologies, America has become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. Natural gas is headed towards its lowest prices in a decade, and even with utilities switching electricity generation to natural gas, experts expect prices to continue dropping. In other words, we have more natural gas than we know what to do with. If only we could burn the stuff in our cars.

Here’s the kicker: We very easily can. Any gasoline engine can run on compressed natural gas (CNG) with a new fuel tank and minimal engine modifications. This should cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to a few thousand, as the parts are not very expensive. So why doesn’t everyone do it? The usual reason: the government.

Not only does Energy Secretary Stephen Chu want gas prices to go up, Obama’s EPA wants to make sure your car only burns the kind of gas that is going up in price. Though natural gas conversions should be cheap and widely available, the EPA charges huge fees to certify new car conversions kits, as much as $200,000 per engine type. Those costs are inevitably passed on to consumers, who are priced out of the market. Last year, the government reduced some of this incredibly intrusive regulation, but only for cars that are more than two years old. Currently only one manufacturer offers a new natural gas-powered car, the Honda Civic, and that costs around $10,000 more than a regular Civic. Considering the fact that natural gas generally burns far cleaner than gasoline, shouldn’t the EPA be happy to make it easier for Americans to switch to this cheap, domestically produced energy source?

But of course, the Obama administration has its own agenda. Ignoring the huge supply of natural gas, it has decided that electric and plug-in cars are the future of the “green economy” and is subsidizing them at every turn. Electric and plug-in vehicles (EVs) get grants and loans for their development and manufacturing costs, as well as tax credits for consumers to encourage sales —and they still haven’t taken off. That’s not surprising, because they’re incredibly expensive, offer only limited range and take a long time to recharge. In fact, even heavy subsidies aren’t enough to keep the electric car myth limping along. By discouraging new car natural gas conversions with high EPA fees, the administration is trying to kill the electric car’s competition. Unfortunately for the American people, that competition is also the obvious solution to our gas-price problem. To keep a government-fueled bubble alive, we’re forcing Americans to choose between overpriced gasoline and overpriced, impractical electric cars.

The solution is breathtakingly simple: stop subsidizing electric cars and minimize natural gas conversion regulations. Free from the government’s pro-EV agenda, the huge supply of natural gas can meet the huge demand for affordable transportation. That would be good for consumers, the environment and national security. Some encouragement for the refueling infrastructure may be necessary, but much of that infrastructure has already been built — it reaches half the homes in America. For just $2,000, less than one-third of the consumer subsidy for EVs (not counting development and production subsidies), the government could cover the cost of a home refueling station, which would allow motorists to fill up natural gas vehicles from the same lines they use to supply their home heaters.

The natural gas revolution is helping Americans use less imported oil. Seventy percent of the oil we do use is used for transportation. With oil prices rising and natural gas prices plummeting, now is the time to convert from gasoline to America’s fuel. And if you’re still not completely convinced, your car can even be converted to run on CNG when it’s available or gasoline when it’s not, although, with natural gas retailing anywhere from $1 to $2 per gallon less than gasoline, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to use gasoline at all.

Dustin Stockton is chief strategist of TheTeaParty.net and chairman of the Western Representation PAC.