Bill to Pay For Flex-Car Pumps Approved

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Bill to Pay For Flex-Car Pumps Approved

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. House has voted to stick European luxury-car makers with the bill for equipping gas stations with the special pumps needed to put ethanol-based fuel into their so-called flex-fuel cars, the Staten Island Advance reported.

Legislation cleared by the House Monday night calls for using the fines collected from Porsche, BMW, Ferrari and others for violating U.S. fuel efficiency standards to help gas stations pay for the equipment. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), would earmark the fine revenues -- about $27 million annually -- to establish a federal program under which gas station owners could apply for grants of as much as $30,000 to install alternative fuel tanks and pumps.

The bill would explicitly bar "large integrated oil companies" from receiving the grants.

"Alternative fuels will never be the first choice for motorists if people don't have the ability to fill up their cars," Fossella said yesterday after his measure passed. He predicted the program would result in the doubling of alternative fuel pumps across the country. Currently, they are in only 600 gas stations -- about 1 percent of the nation's total.

Ralph Bombardiere of the New York State Association of Gas Stations told the Staten Island Advance, "You have to have separate pumps for ethanol because it is very corrosive. You have to have an extra-strong hose and you can't have any rubber around. ... Ethanol does a job on rubber."

Bombardiere, however, was skeptical of the proposed federal grant program. He estimated the cost of equipping a gas station to dispense alternative fuel at about double the amount of the grants, because of the need for separate tanks.

Moreover, "the demand is not there and it won't be around for a long time," he said, estimating that the approximately 200,000 flex cars now on the road in the state could be served by three medium-sized gas stations. "And the ethanol prices are not good, they are bad," he said. "I hear prices of anywhere between $4 a gallon to $6 a gallon."

Under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Act of 1975, a motor vehicle manufacturer's U.S. fleet of cars must have an average fuel economy of 27.5 miles per gallon. For trucks, the required fleet average is 21 miles.

The penalty for flunking the standards is $5.50 for every tenth of a mile below the target rating multiplied by the total number of cars or trucks in the fleet. Over the last two decades, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has collected about $500 million in fines, all of them paid by the European car manufacturers, also including DaimlerChrysler. No U.S. or Japanese motor vehicle manufacturer has ever been assessed a CAFE fine.

Nationwide, the number of flex cars on the road has jumped from 1.2 million in 2001 to more than 6 million today, the Staten Island Advance said.