Congress recently passed the first long-term highway bill in a decade. The more than 1,300 page bill contains a number of significant policy changes, some directly related to transportation policy, others less so. This week, NATSO is taking a "deep dive" on different components of the highway bill. Today, the topic is Natural Gas and EV Charging.
The five-year, $305 billion highway bill signed into law Dec. 4 by President Obama contained several provisions that stand to affect the right-of-way on federal aid highways. Although the changes are not dramatic, because they could potentially affect the current ban on rest area commercialization, NATSO will play an active role in how they are implemented.
Section 1413 of the new law directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to identify and establish fueling corridors to support alternative-fueling stations, including electric, hydrogen, propane and natural gas fueling infrastructure at strategic locations along major national highways. DOT is further charged with identifying the near- and long-term need for, and locations of, electric vehicle, natural gas, and propane refueling infrastructure for both passenger and commercial vehicles.
A second provision, Section 1424, authorizes the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration to establish pilot programs in up to five states to “utilize innovative approaches to maintain the right-of-way of Federal-aid highways.”
As DOT explores the implementation of both of these sections, NATSO will actively work with the Administration to ensure that these directives are carried out within the confines of the existing law that prohibits commercial services at rest areas.
Congress has not expressed an explicit desire to roll back the 50-year prohibition on commercial rest areas. Some lawmakers, however, have supported legislation that would roll-back the ban in minor ways, and NATSO takes these threats seriously. During the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup of the House version of the highway bill, Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would have allowed EV charging stations and natural gas refueling infrastructure at highway rest areas.
She ultimately withdrew the amendment amid strong opposition from NATSO, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Petroleum Marketers Association of America and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
Congress prohibited states from offering automotive and other commercial services at rest areas built after Jan. 1, 1960, (23 USC 111) as the Interstate Highway System was being developed in hopes of stimulating economic development at the exits along the nation’s interstates. The commercialization ban includes a prohibition on establishing fees for electric vehicle charging stations. The law has been a resounding success, resulting in the development of nearly 100,000 businesses along the nation’s interstates.
Congress has reaffirmed this law numerous times since its implementation, including as recently as three years ago when the U.S. Senate resoundingly rejected an amendment to repeal the law, by a vote of 12-86.
NATSO by and large supports efforts to expand the use of alternative fuels for transportation, and believes its members' locations could play a vital role in establishing alternative fuel corridors. However, NATSO strongly opposes the installation of alternative-fueling stations at rest areas and thinks states should work with existing exit-based businesses to install them at private businesses. Furthermore, NATSO believes that state governments should not provide transportation fuel paid for with tax dollars.
Offering electric charging services or natural gas at rest areas would allow the state to enter into direct competition with the private businesses already operating near the interstate exit interchanges to meet the fueling needs of the motoring public. In addition, state governments would preempt consumer demand for new technology and emerging fuels, effectively destroying the incentive for private sector investment.
NATSO will continue to play an active role with the Administration as these provisions in the highway bill are implemented.
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