The 84th legislative session ended on June 1, 2015. See the bills that have become law.

Incentivizing shift to natural gas vehicles

Curated by Jim Malewitz

Texas is awash in cheap natural gas — a fuel that burns cleaner than oil. So why not use it to power the millions of vehicles that are contributing to air pollution struggles in some corners of the state?

Oil, of course, has a stronghold in the auto industry, compounding the long-standing barriers to the expansion of vehicles that run on natural gas. Those barriers include a lack of fueling stations across the U.S. and the relatively high up-front cost of natural gas vehicles. Experts have called it a chicken-and-egg problem: Folks have been reluctant to pay more for the vehicles because of the lack of fueling stations, and companies have hesitated to build those fueling stations due to the low demand for the vehicles.

But that mind-set appears to be shifting in Texas and elsewhere.

As of mid-March, Texas was home to 130 natural gas fueling stations, up from 104 in September of 2014, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which has been promoting the switch to natural gas. Those 77 public stations and 63 private ones serve about 7,200 vehicles.

The surge in Texas is due in part to changing economics and millions of dollars in state grants, including millions spent in recent years on Texas’ “Clean Transportation Triangle,” a growing network of natural gas fueling stations along highways that link San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. The state has also invested in storage and compression infrastructure in counties that struggle to meet air regulations. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality last year doled out more than $7 million in grants through a program made possible by legislation passed in 2013. 

Another factor driving the trend amounts to simple economics, experts say. The nation’s surge in natural gas production has made the fuel far cheaper than gasoline and diesel. Truckers, large companies and even public agencies across Texas are increasingly purchasing natural gas vehicles in hopes of saving on long-term costs and bolstering their green credentials. Large public transit systems in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are among those that have invested in natural gas fleets. 

During the 84th legislative session, senators overwhelmingly backed legislation that would incentivize state agencies, counties and cities to purchase vehicles that run on natural gas and other fuels that burn more cleanly than gasoline. The measure was later attached to separate legislation in the House. But conference committee members couldn't reach an agreement on that bill, which died.

Updated: June 10, 2015

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The Texas Legislative Guide was designed and developed by Becca Aaronson, Emily Albracht, Daniel Craigmile, Annie Daniel, Ben Hasson and Ryan Murphy for The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.