The ABC’s of CNG, Converters vs Bureaucrats
During the summer of 2008 it seemed to come on me all at once, even though there was a gradual learning curve as to what is was the simplicity of the solution seemed like something anyone could understand. As the price of gasoline climbed up towards $4.00 and the pain at the pump increased the solution of a low cost fuel seemed to be more and more desirable. The first time I saw a CNG pump and CNG vehicle was about 6 years ago at a gas station mini mart in Orem Utah, this particular station is now out of business due to highway reconstruction but I remember sitting there fascinated as I watched a Questar Gas truck filling up using a high pressure hose which looked like something out of a science fiction movie. I went over and looked at the pump it seemed like a rocket refueling station. I noticed the price of $.64 and thought those lucky Questar guys, why was it they got cheap fuel and I didn’t.
At the time I didn’t even consider a CNG vehicle since the price of gasoline was still under $2.00 and information about CNG conversions was non-existent. It wasn’t until June of 2008 and gasoline peaked at $4.12 that people started to look for another alternative. Yes George Bush was still president and the economy seemed to be chugging along but the high gasoline prices seemed like a hot poker up the tailpipe of anyone driving a gasoline vehicle. There seemed to be very few alternatives. Just bite the bullet and take the hit. Fortunately for those states that already had CNG refueling infrastructure in place CNG conversions started rolling out. CNG vehicles were shipped into Utah from out of state, local mechanics that could import CNG components started converting vehicles. CNG trainers started training, CNG entrepreneurs started planning about CNG conversion facilities and it seemed like the CNG industry (in Utah at least) was on its way. But there were those who viewed some of the CNG conversion community as a group of criminals, at least unless you had the blessing or certification of the EPA.
Through some back room meetings and illogical thinking patterns the Utah Department of Public Safety (the board which oversees the rule-making for the Utah safety inspections) decided to change their 2009 rules, these new rules would make all non-EPA Certified CNG Conversions illegal to drive in the state of Utah. On January 15, 2009, through one of its spokesperson, the Department of Public Safety appeared on local television (KUTV, Channel 2 on Get Gephart) and announced that more than 4000 CNG Vehicles were now illegal to drive since only “EPA Certified Systems” could pass a yearly Utah Safety Inspection but this decision didn’t stand long. By the end of January the Department of Public Safety and Commissioner Lance Davenport in particular were sued for illogical and illegal rule-making.
By March 6th 2009 the Utah Highway Patrol were served an injunction to “stop rejecting CNG conversions simply on the basis that they were not EPA Certified”.
I distinctly remember the night the Get Gephart piece was aired, I was attending a CNG United safety training in Ogden Utah, as me and other CNG mechanics talked about the announcement we felt like the Utah Highway Patrol had taken one of their black high top boots and placed it on the neck of any aftermarket CNG converter and all those who drove non-EPA certified CNG vehicle. CNG mechanics and shop owners had spent 1000’s of dollars and hundreds of hours learning about and promoting CNG conversions at their own expense. The next week myself along with about 10 other CNG converters got so fed up that we started a counter group to get to the bottom of what had happened. The group was called C.C.A.T.S. Certified CNG Automotive Technicians for Safety.
From their website we read their purpose:
“Who are CCATS and where did they come from?
CCATS (Certified CNG Automotive Technicians for Safety) was officially organized on January 13, 2009. It was formed in response to the UHP ruling that only converted vehicles with the “EPA certified” stickers were safe to drive in Utah. CCATS members contend that ALL CNG INSTALLS whether EPA or not need to be tested for Safety and Emissions. If an install is safe and clean it should be deemed legal.”
As the year went on the price of gasoline dropped to $1.39 a gallon, CNG conversions nationwide slowed down but no one really knows what damage the ill thought out rule making by the Utah Public Safety Commissioners did to the CNG Conversion community here in Utah or even nationwide. This episode of name calling and punishing behavior brings out how emotional people get when it comes to CNG.
Now a few years later things have changed a little, CCATS is only a website, CNG conversions are still moving forward but everyone is looking at their cost and not whether or not non-EPA certified are legal or not. In the next few months people will focus on where their next paycheck is coming from. As the government sector grows larger than the private sector eventually the proverbial straw that broke the camels back will be in the way of one more tax or agency regulation and the workers will start refusing to pay.