Proposed Transportation Fee Targets Eco-Friendly Drivers

January 10, 2013

Governor Bob McDonnell has outlined his plan to help fund transportation in the Commonwealth, and it involves charging some of the most eco-friendly drivers.

In 2012, we saw the highest gasoline prices on record, and over the last few years, more Virginians have turned to alternative fuel vehicles.

Under Governor McDonnell's new transportation proposal, drivers who opt for these cars and trucks powered by alternative fuels, like natural gas, would be charged $100 a year.

"These vehicles generate very little federal gas tax revenue," the governor said in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday. "Therefore, the small fee will help them to pay their share of the funds to maintain and improve our roads."

But Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities, said that might not be the best plan.

"In Virginia, we don't produce any gasoline and diesel, but we do produce natural gas, so it does make sense for us to incentivize those instead of tax them," said Harned. "It's common sense."

Other states like West Virginia and Maryland reward drivers for transitioning to alternative fuels. Harned said implementing the proposed fee would sway drivers or companies from using a fuel source found right here in Virginia.

"A hundred dollars per vehicle for a business would be a potential hamper or disadvantage and handicap to the alternate fuel vehicle transition process," he said.

Harned also noted, while it's necessary to pay for our roads, we should rethink how we get there.

"Taxing cleaner, domestic fuels at a higher rate than we tax the fuels that we import from overseas might not be the best plan for jobs, for energy, economic and environmental security in Virginia or in the United States," he said.

But other drivers said the proposed fee wouldn't stop them from getting -- or staying -- behind the wheel of one of these vehicles.

"I saved $1,700 in fuel costs on my Chevy Tahoe last year driving it on natural gas," said Mike Smack, owner and founder of E3 Energy. "Paying that $100 fee is not going to bother me at all."

Smack said, for some motorists, it's about more than the money.

"You'll find that most people that are interested in using alternative fuel are advocates of not just the economic savings but also the environmental savings, as well as the benefit to the U.S. for energy security."

Natural gas costs less than gasoline, but converting a vehicle to run on natural gas can cost thousands of dollars, making it a good choice for high-mileage fleets.

There are more than 61,000 alternative fuel vehicles registered in Virginia.

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