H.B.2954, the County Fleet Vehicle Compressed Natural Gas Conversion Funding Act of 2014, passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week and had its first reading in the state Senate on Monday.
The bill, which Rep. Josh Cockroft introduced into the House in mid-January and was taken up by state Sen. Kyle Loveless, would create a revolving fund populated by state gross production tax revenue that administrators from Oklahoma's 77 counties could use to defray the cost of buying and/or converting light-duty natural gas vehicles (NGVs). New OEM NGV purchases and conversions of new and existing fleet vehicles would be permitted.
A large portion of the state's gross production tax revenue comes from taxes collected on natural gas and oil extraction operations. So, in effect, Oklahoma's natural gas industry would be re-investing some of its tax obligations into its own sphere, through supporting large-scale conversions of NGVs.
The bill's current language sets the funding level at 5% of gross production tax revenue annually. Cockroft tells NGT News that, for instance, this year's appropriations would put the fund at approximately $15 million. Of course, the total would change year to year based on tax revenue.
Oklahoma's counties would each receive an equal share of money from the revolving fund every fiscal year, through July 1, 2019. However, it is notable that the new bill is not a mandate.
‘A county would be able to refuse funds,’ he says. ‘Not every county will choose to participate. If a county refuses funds, those monies would be placed back into the fund for other counties to use.’
Right now, the bill addresses only light-duty vehicles. In Oklahoma, there are about 5,000 such county vehicles, including from law enforcement fleets. Cockroft notes that, in the future, the hope is to expand such an initiative to include medium- and heavy-duty fleet vehicles.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has been a vocal champion of NGV proliferation, most notably through the multi-state NGV procurement partnership that she spearheaded in the fall of 2011. Her support for a measure such as the County Fleet Vehicle Compressed Natural Gas Conversion Funding Act seems likely.
But first, the state Senate will debate the bill's merits – and Cockroft is optimistic.
‘I know we will have changes along the way, especially in the amount of appropriations, but this is a fight worth fighting,’ he says. ‘Oklahoma is poised and primed to take the lead with CNG infrastructure. I realize this legislation requires a commitment, but I also believe it is worth it.’