SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new state law’s prospects for getting more clean-fuel vehicles on the road and clearing Utah’s air are being clouded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s threat of sanctions. Some auto shop owners said they have dropped plans to equip cars for the cleaner fuel because of the EPA’s position. The law allows vehicles to be converted to compressed natural gas by industry-certified technicians instead of requiring an EPA-certified kit for each model and year of vehicle. Gene Foulger, owner of Certified Auto, said he supports the law because certifying each model year’s kit costs $25,000 or more, and the maker passes the costs on to shops and consumers for each conversion. But because the EPA made it clear it’s not accepting the state’s authority, Foulger said he dropped plans for immediate conversions. “I had a run-in with EPA about 15 years ago,” Foulger said, citing a $12,000 fine he paid over the alleged improper disposal of motor oil. “I’ve been burned once and I do not want to go through it again.” In a Feb. 12 letter to Gov. Gary Herbert when the legislation was pending, EPA Acting Regional Administrator Carol Rushin criticized the measure. “(The bill) is not consistent with federal law and leaves those involved in commercial activity associated with aftermarket fuel conversions vulnerable to enforcement for failure to comply with the federal statutory and regulatory requirements,” she wrote. Agency spokesman Richard Mylott said the EPA’s position remains the same today, even though agency officials are trying to streamline the federal permitting process for conversion kits. The law’s sponsor, state Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said he hopes shop owners move forward with conversions. “If we’re ever going to use compressed natural gas as the tool it can be for our air-quality problems – which are significant – we’re going to have to get thousands of vehicles on the road,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I would be disappointed and surprised if they (the EPA) press the issue (with fines) because we’re only helping them with their mission.” Nearly 7,600 EPA-approved CNG vehicles were registered in Utah last year, according to the Clean Cities Coalition. But many more vehicles have been converted without EPA approval and not reported. Herbert called the law a commonsense approach to reducing costs on cleaner vehicles. The Republican governor said he will work with the Department of Environmental Quality and the attorney general’s office to determine the state’s response in the event of an EPA crackdown. “I just need to wait and see what happens and react,” Herbert said. Supporters of CNG vehicles say switching from a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle to an alternative fuel vehicle that runs on domestically produced natural gas can improve fuel efficiency, reduce dependency on foreign oil and help the state’s air quality.
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