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An alternative energy source that's well within reach

Pa. should switch to natural gas

Wallace Nunn

is a former chairman of the

Delaware County Council

What if there were a way to do the following?

Create high-paying jobs in Pennsylvania.

Increase demand for a commodity that is abundant in Pennsylvania.

Reduce the national debt.

Reduce the income of dictators in the Middle East and Venezuela.

Decrease tensions among nations vying for a scarce resource.

And help the environment.

This may be the rare case in which something that sounds too good to be true isn't. Gov. Rendell and the legislature should consider using federal stimulus money, some of which is targeted to alternative energy projects, to switch the state's fleet of diesel-fuel vehicles to compressed natural gas.

Every vehicle we run on compressed natural gas is a vehicle that is not run on imported oil. Instead, we would be using a fuel that is produced by American companies paying American taxes and employing American workers making a living wage that could help them pay their mortgages. Making or retrofitting such verhicles also would require well-trained and paid labor.

An added benefit would be environmental, as vehicles burning natural gas emit far less pollution than those burning diesel. UPS trucks using the fuel emitted 75 percent less carbon monoxide, 49 percent less nitrogen oxides, and 95 percent less particulates than their diesel counterparts, according to a company study.

UPS is not the only company that has seriously considered compressed natural gas. AT&T recently announced that it will change its fleet to hybrid and natural-gas vehicles, and the state of Oklahoma is moving forward with legislation to encourage a switch.

One major impediment to switching vehicles to natural gas is the question of where one gases up. But in the case of large fleets such as Pennsylvania's, vehicles tend to return to a central point where they can be refueled.

Depending on the money available and the cost of retrofitting and needed infrastructure, the state could help local communities and transportation systems such as SEPTA make the switch to natural gas, too.

Recent studies have shown that Pennsylvania has large reserves of natural gas in a geologic formation know as the Marcellus Shale. This raises the welcome prospect of vehicles powered by fuel produced not only in the United States, but right here in Pennsylvania.

Many on the environmental left will push for more esoteric projects. But this is not the time for that. This is the time is to take concrete steps to help the economy, reduce dependence on foreign oil, improve the environment, and perhaps demonstrate the viability of this approach to a broader audience.

We would be a much stronger nation if we were not sending billions of dollars to oil-rich countries that in many instances use the money to undermine us. One can only imagine what that money might do for the domestic workforce, the real estate market, the nation's debt, and the peace of mind of our citizens.