In the U.S. State of Michigan, where trucking accounts for about 65 percent of the tonnage moved, natural gas fuelled commercial vehicles are making a real difference to transport-related emissions. A bill, introduced earlier this year to remove one barrier to increased adoption of natural gas — the 80,000 pounds weight limit — has now entered its third and final reading on the way to being adopted into State law.
Supporters of the legislation argue that among all of the alternative fuel sources, natural gas has some of the greatest potential to reduce dependency on foreign oil and achieve market adaption across all classes of motor vehicles operating on roadways. When used as a fuel source, compressed natural gas (CNG) provides more economic and environmental benefits than some other sources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “When used as a vehicle fuel, natural gas can offer life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) benefits over conventional fuels, depending on vehicle type, drive cycle, and engine calibration.” The Department also stated in its January 2017 “Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report” that the national average retail fuel price of compressed natural gas was $0.21 lower than the cost of gasoline as of that date.
Current Michigan law, however, disadvantages operators who use, or wish to use, natural gas vehicles to transport loads of goods or other substances. Because natural gas fuel systems are heavier, vehicles powered by this fuel source are not able to carry as much as trucks fueled by diesel. Reportedly, this results in revenue losses of up to 2% or 3% per load for companies operating natural gas vehicles, and creates the potential for those vehicles to be prohibited from carrying trailers that have a fixed load that cannot be changed easily.
The bill would ensure that natural gas vehicles could carry the same loads as other vehicles powered by different fuel sources. SB-0159 proposes to amend 1949 PA 300, entitled “Michigan vehicle code”, to include the following:
“(14) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a vehicle that has a gross weight of 80,000 pounds or less and that is operated by an engine that is fueled wholly or partially by compressed or liquefied natural gas may exceed the axle loading maximums under subsections (1), (2), (3), and (4) and the weight load maximums under subsection (12) by an amount equal to the difference between the weight of the vehicle attributable to the natural gas tank and fueling system carried by that vehicle and the weight of a comparable diesel tank and fueling system. The amount by which a vehicle described in this subsection may exceed the axle loading maximums under subsections (1), (2), (3), and (4) and the weight load maximums under subsection (12) shall not exceed 2,000 pounds.”
This would not only create parity among users of the different fuel sources, but also reduce the number of additional trips that may have to be made to account for the goods that are not loaded, which would help preserve Michigan roadways. Moreover, the bill would assist businesses choosing, or wishing, to invest in a domestic fuel that is cleaner than diesel, and provide incentive for companies to use natural gas vehicles.
The FAST Act of 2015 created a Federal exemption for natural gas vehicles of up to 82,000 pounds total on the Interstate Highway System. According to Committee testimony, states surrounding Michigan, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio, also have adopted the Federal weight exemption for vehicles fueled by natural gas. Regulatory uniformity creates economic certainty and reliability, something that businesses using natural gas vehicles could realize if Michigan incorporated the same weight exemption.
(Source: Government of Michigan)