August 13, 2014 1:10 PM, EDT

Senate Bill Contains Weight Exemption for Nat Gas Trucks

UPS Inc.

A proposal has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to give a weight exemption to trucks powered by natural-gas engines, which have heavier fuel tanks than those that run on diesel.

The Natural Gas Long Haul Truck Competitiveness Act of 2014 was introduced in late July by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).

Under a 1991 federal law, truck weight on interstates was limited to 80,000 pounds, although some states such as Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming that already had higher limits were allowed to keep them.

The senators said their bill would “level the playing field” for natural-gas powered trucks by allowing them to carry the same amount of freight.

The bill would provide an exemption equal to the weight of the natural-gas tank and fueling system, relative to the weight of a comparable diesel tank and fueling system.

“Due to natural gas fueling systems weighing roughly 2,000 pounds more than diesel systems, trucks running on natural gas are forced to carry less freight under current federal weight restrictions,” Inhofe and Donnelly said in a statement.

“Natural gas is a clean and affordable domestic energy resource that has the potential to drive American energy independence to reality,” said Inhofe.

If approved, the legislation would bring the federal laws that regulate trucking into the 21st century, he said.

Donnelly said: “Supporting natural gas-powered vehicles is a part of the all-in approach to American energy that we need.”

Some states — among them Donnelly’s Indiana, along with Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and Virginia — have approved weight exemptions for natural gas trucks running on their highways. But the state exemptions do not help truckers on interstate highways.

“Despite the many positive attributes of natural gas trucks including competitive fuel costs and environmental benefits, there is still a constraint to owning and operating a natural gas vehicle because of the federal rules on highway truck weights,” said, Richard Kolodziej, president of NGVAmerica, a natural gas advocacy group.

The extra weight that comes with both natural gas fuel systems — liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas — can cause a revenue loss of up to 2% to 3% due to reduced payload, Kolodziej said.

Trucking leaders and truck manufacturers voiced support for the bill.

“We thank the senators for introducing this legislation which eliminates a disincentive impeding the adoption of natural gas vehicles in the heavy duty truck industry,” said Dave Crompton, president of the Cummins Engine Business Unit.

Natural gas holds great promise for the trucking industry and the economy, Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, said in a statement applauding Inhofe and Donnelly for the bill.

“While there are still many details and specifications to address on this complex issue, we look forward to working with them on this important energy and transportation matter,” Graves said.