It's not often that environmental organizations and the coal industry come down on the same side of a policy debate. But that's happening in West Virginia, where both groups have concerns about Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to eliminate a state tax incentive for plug-in electric cars and other alternative fuel vehicles.
The tax credit covers 35 percent of the cost of an alternative fuel vehicle, up to $7,500 for cars and $25,000 for large trucks. The credit would remain in place for vehicles that run on natural gas, propane and butane, but would be phased out in 2017, rather than in 2021 as is currently scheduled.
The legislation states that the change is being made to encourage the use of natural gas-fueled vehicles, even if it comes at the expense of other alternative fuels. The state code designating the tax credit now says, "By encouraging the use of alternatively-fueled motor vehicles, the state will be reducing its dependence on foreign oil and attempting to improve its air quality."
Under current law, alternatively-fueled motor vehicles that run on alternative fuels include plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles as well as those that run on ethanol, alcohol, hydrogen, solar power and coal-derived liquid fuels.
The proposal redefines "alternatively-fueled" to mean only vehicles that run on natural gas and liquefied petroleum. "Alternatively-fueled" is replaced with "natural gas fueled and liquefied petroleum gas fueled motor vehicles," according to the proposal
"We would like to see electric vehicles back in the mix here," said Gary Zuckett, director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, an environmental organization. "As we move forward here with this bill we should work to get that put back into the policy because we need to have all the cards on the table to support alternatively-fueled vehicles and minimize our dependence on overseas oil."
Bill Raney, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said his organization had not looked at the legislation closely enough to take a firm position, but he did say that he would like to see both electric vehicles and coal-derived liquid fuel vehicles included in the bill.
The tax credit was initially passed in 2011 as part of a bill to encourage development of the Marcellus shale natural gas field. Tomblin's office said that they did not realize at the time how expensive the program would be.
"There was not a fiscal note done on this section of this bill," said Amy Shuler Goodwin, spokeswoman for the governor. "We didn't know what the financial impact would be. It will be significant, extremely substantial."
West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association president Ruth Lemmon said she was still reviewing the proposal and attempting to gauge the total impact it might have.
But she said the credit has been effective at stimulating sales of alternatively-fueled cars and trucks in the state.