Natural Gas is Great; the NAT GAS Act, Not So Much

Erika Johnsen

3/7/2012 1:25:00 PM - Erika Johnsen

In terms of the energy market, natural gas could very well be the next big thing. It's readily abundant, it's cost-effective, it can fluidy transition into our infrastructure and it burns more cleanly than traditional fossil fuels. Really, it should be the environmental lobby's dream-come-true (I say should be, because environmentalists have manufactured an impressively dubious list of grievances against the all-but-innocuous, decades-old practice of fracking. But of course, hardcore greenies only approve of a select few energy options that include wind, solar, algae, or returning to Dark Ages-style mass misery. Some people just don't like prosperity.).

I'm a definite advocate for the elimination of all types of energy-related subsidies -- heck, forget energy-related subsidies; I'm an advocate for the elimination of pretty much all subsides, ever. Subsidies accomplish little except to allow the government to pluck its political favorites from the competition and efficiency of the free market, induce crony capitalism and corporate welfare, and enable politicians to effectively buy votes from their "cut spending now, just not spending that benefits me"-constituents.

Our tax code, paired with our (nonexistent) federal budget, is a nightmare, and even though his ideological argument is completely different than mine (the government is responsible for all innovation and stimulus money creates valuable jobs, or some such Keynesian nonsense), President Obama was halfway there when he suggested that we eliminate subsidies for the oil and gas industries. But a "level playing field" requires just that: a level playing field. No form of energy should enjoy the subsidized spoils of political favoritism, which always and necessarily come with the expense of other opportunity costs.

As much as they just love to decry the financial class for such eeevil activities as speculation and creating super PACs, Congressional Democrats are now trying to tack the nefarious Natural Gas Act onto the $109 billion highway bill. Whether it's an intellectual disconnect, or just good ol' fashioned hypocrisy... it's astounding. Human Events reports:

George Soros and other top contributors to Democrats are one step closer to making millions of dollars off their natural gas investments, thanks to tax breaks and subsidies included in the Natural Gas Act which was filed March 5 as an amendment to the highway bill.

Capitol Hill sources report that a ruling by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will allow the Natural Gas Act to be included in Senate Res. 1813, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century America Fast Forward Financing Innovation Act of 2011,” commonly referred to as the highway bill. The highway bill was debated by the Senate Tuesday.  Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who filed the Senate’s version of the Nat Gas Act in November, told us he added it to the highway bill last night.

Chief among the beneficiaries of the Natural Gas Act is Soros Fund Management, which according to federal filings, owns 6.6 percent of Westport Innovations, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based natural gas engine distributor and manufacturer.  The fund’s position is worth more than $135 million at today’s stock market price.  Westport, with three partner factories in China, is a global leader in fuel systems and conversion kits.

Known on Capitol Hill as the “Nat Gas Act,” the proposal will extend federal tax credits for the purchase and operation of natural gas-powered vehicles; provide subsidies for the manufacture of natural gas engines, the establishment of a national system of privately held natural gas storage facilities and refueling stations. The legislation would also facilitate the migration of government-owned vehicle fleets to natural gas use.

Maybe it's true that big monied interests are granted an undue amount of influence in our political system -- but the problem isn't big money. It's Big Government. Proposals like these only serve to create opportunities for rent-seeking and crony capitalism, and the free market (in which people can only get ahead by providing a better product, as opposed to government fiat) isn't the enemy here. Don't hate the player, hate the game. Natural gas is great, but it doesn't need any government help -- especially not the type of "help" that further convolutes our laws and tax codes and is little more than a front for enriching donors.