Feb 3, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterA slew of bills regarding natural gas is marching through both Wyoming legislative houses. Fremont County's legislators are mostly backing the eight bills, which encourage use of the fuel in motor vehicles.
Fremont County follows the legislation with interest because Riverton has a filling station for compressed natural gas vehicles, one of just four in the state and the only one not on Interstate 80.
If all eight bills pass, sales tax would not apply to natural gas fueling equipment, devices to convert vehicles to run on natural gas, or part of the cost of vehicles ready-made to run on natural gas.
Additionally, loans of up to $1 million would be available for businesses to open natural gas fueling stations, the state would give loans of up to $10 million to local governments for natural gas services and school districts would receive funding for fueling stations as well.
Finally, half of state agency fleets would be required to run on the alternative fuel.
Though some of the bills have not advanced far, none has lost a vote in a committee or either house.
The Wyoming Senate already passed the bill granting loans to businesses and the bill requiring state entities to use natural gas vehicles. Both bills are now in the House Minerals Committee.
Besides the business loan bill, two others seek to provide funding for natural gas fueling stations. A bill to create a program allocating $4.5 million for school districts to build such facilities passed its second reading in the Wyoming House of Representatives Feb. 1.
The House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 31 amended the bill to lower its funding from $12 to $4.5 million. The House Minerals Committee had previously passed the bill with Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, voting for it.
On Jan. 16, a Senate File to provide $10 million loans to counties and municipalities for natural gas fueling stations was referred to the Senate Minerals Committee. Larsen co-sponsored that bill.
Three bills would provide tax exemptions for equipment related to the alternative fuel.
A bill exempting natural gas fueling station equipment from sales tax passed the House of Representatives on Jan. 24 and was introduced in the Senate the next day. The tax would expire once $6.25 million of such equipment was sold.
Reps. Rita Campbell, R-Shoshoni, Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, and Larsen voted for it, Winters voted against it, and Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, was excused.
A second bill exempts from sales tax equipment to make a vehicle run on natural gas in order to create an incentive to convert vehicles. The third seeks to stimulate sales of natural gas powered vehicles by making $6,000 of their price exempt from sales tax.
The second and third bills were referred to the House Revenue Committee on Jan. 17.
Wyoming's Public Service Commission regulates natural gas sales in the state. It grants monopolies to companies for different areas but regulates prices to protect consumers.
Larsen on Jan. 16 introduced a bill to take the sale of compressed natural gas for motor vehicles out from under the control of the Public Service Commission.
He said if the Commission oversaw sales for vehicle fuel, it would have to enforce its territorial monopoly system. So only one company in town could sell the vehicle fuel.
"This allows the private sector to come in and buy from a public utility and sell it at market price," Larsen said. "If it doesn't happen, then just the utility would be able to sell it."
Larsen introduced one natural gas bill and co-sponsored four of them.
"It is an important issue to me because natural gas contributes enormously to the severance revenue of the state," he said referring to taxes on extracted minerals. "We're trying to help the industry use more of their product because the more product they use, the more severance revenues the states gets."
He added his background is in minerals and thinks the natural gas industry has contributed greatly to the state and local community. Besides taxes mineral companies pay, he said they also employ many state residents.
Larsen's bill passed the House Transportation committee on Jan. 20 with Campbell voting for it.
It passed a second reading in the House on Feb. 1.
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