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Transportation Budget Cuts Alternative Fuel Mandate

Flexible fuel pump
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Flexible fuel pump

The transportation budget signed last week includes a change for the state’s vehicle fleet: The budget cuts out a requirement on alternative fuels that had been in place for most of a decade.

In July 2006 alternative fuels had become popular and were starting to become more accessible, and the state legislature had noticed. The Republican run House and Senate had unanimously passed a law requiring the state’s vehicle fleet to be more flexible when it comes to fuels.

Republican Gov. Bob Taft said at the bill signing that the law it doubled the state’s commitment to ethanol and required vehicles in all state agencies to increase their consumption of biodiesel year after year.

“This bill is good for Ohio, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for farmers, it’s good for our country,” Taft said at the time.

But nearly nine years later, those ethanol and biodiesel requirements are gone from the $7 billion state transportation budget. The version signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich eliminates those requirements, which Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning says demanded the state increase its use of alternative fuels each and every year with no cap.

“It’s not that we don’t like alternative fuels – it’s just a cost thing, really,” said Bruning.

It’s more expensive at this point to use those fuels, and so we just didn’t want to have a requirement. There’s nothing that says we can’t go back to them if the market conditions were to change.

It’s about time to eliminate this requirement, says Greg Lawson with the conservative think tank the Buckeye Institute.

“A lot of times we get into a lot of things that are very faddish, and we assume that we need to mandate this or we need to mandate that, and it’s a whole bunch of different issues,” said Lawson.

“It was a mandate, and we think mandates, as a general matter, are bad things to do. What you want to see happen is you want to see the market work.”

Like ODOT’s Bruning, Lawson says he has no problem with the idea of alternative fuels, but says they need to save taxpayer money. Alternative fuels boosters are disappointed, but say they haven’t given up.

Sam Spofforth is with Clean Fuels Ohio. He says the economy is important to consider – because he says gas prices are volatile, though regular gas is cheaper now than alternative fuels such as E85 and biodiesel.

“These are domestically available fuels – a lot of times they’re coming right out of Ohio or our Midwestern neighbors, and they’re just simply good for the state’s economy,” said Spofforth.

So it’s an unfortunate move on the part of the state, but we’re prepared to continue to work with state leadership to encourage greater support for alternative fuels.

There have also been concerns about the difficulty in finding stations that offer alternative fuels in Ohio.

Spofforth says he thinks the 2006 law allowed for waivers in cases where alternative fuels are not offered, but Clean Fuels Ohio notes there are 125 fuel stations offering E85 in Ohio, mostly along major highways, and just 7 stations with biodiesel statewide.