The Senate Tuesday killed legislation to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to encourage companies to use natural-gas powered vehicles. The legislation also would have benefited wealthy backers of the Democratic measure, including George Soros, T. Boone Pickens, and Kevin G. Douglas.
The amendment to the highway bill required 60 votes to pass but was defeated 51 yeas to 47 nays.
First reported by HUMAN EVENTS, the measure sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R- N.C.) would distribute billions in subsidies to these key entities and others for the purchase of natural gas vehicles and to build fueling stations. It would be funded through a new tax on consumers that charged 2.5 cents per gallon of natural gas beginning in 2014, with another increase to 12.5 cents in 2021.
“Gas prices are skyrocketing and meanwhile natural gas is $1.50 cheaper than gas, and we have 100-plus years of supply we can draw from,” Menendez said. “The only thing in our way is so few natural gas vehicles and gas stations on the road.” Menendez and Burr said their measure would give the natural gas market a needed jump-start by the federal government. “This gives it a five-hour energy drink,” Burr said. “This is essential if you want natural gas prices to stay down.”
With only a few minutes of debate allowed before the vote, no Senators on either side of the aisle spoke out against the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions (NATGAS) Act.
Earlier in the day, Menendez said their measure would displace 20 billion gallons of petroleum. “Is this just another handout to energy companies? The answer to that question is a resounding no,” Menendez said.
The amendment was opposed by an unusual alliance of free market organizations and environmental groups who urged Senators in a letter Tuesday to vote against the measure.
“By providing billions in tax subsidies, the NATGAS Act interferes in the marketplace to favor natural gas over other transportation and energy technologies that may be more cost-effective or sustainable,” said the letter from Taxpayers for Common Sense, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, among others.
The NATGAS Act provides significant subsidies for natural gas at all levels of production — from manufacturing and infrastructure to consumer tax credits — carrying an estimated $5 billion price tag, the organizations said.
“While a consumer fee would be used as an offset over the long-term, the fee does not even begin (to) phase in until 2014, sticking taxpayers with the immediate fiscal impacts,” the organizations said.
The office of Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) declined to comment on whether he will withdraw support for the House version of NATGAS, which he introduced April 6, 2011.
Among the bill’s big beneficiaries would have been George Soros, T. Boone Pickens, Kevin G. Douglas as companies under their control stood to reap the rewards of billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies contained in the Democratic-sponsored measure.
The act would have subsidized three different enterprises controlled by Soros, Pickens and Douglas, who consistently rank among the most generous political donors, according to Federal Election Commission Records.
Moreover, HUMAN EVENTS has learned that one of these companies, Fuel Systems Solutions based in Santa Ana, Calif., has and continues to conduct business, through its foreign subsidiaries, with customers in Iran, according to the company’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company acknowledges in those filings that tougher international economic sanctions levied in light of that nation’s civilian nuclear program may adversely affect its Iranian-based revenues in 2012, as such measures have in the past.
Douglas is a key shareholder in Fuel Systems, and he is the largest individual investor in Westport Innovations, a Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based supplier of natural gas engine systems and retrofit kits. Westport’s investors also include Soros Fund Management, an investment vehicle of the Soros family. Westport’s board previously included T. Boone Pickens, who currently owns Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, a Houston-based supplier of natural gas.
Fuel Systems, Westport and Clean Energy Fuels constitute what Robert Brown, a stock analyst with Craig-Hallum Capital in Minneapolis who specializes in the energy sector, referred to as “the big three” of the natural gas-powered automation arena in North America. The companies are all relatively small in terms of revenues and considered speculative as stock investments, but the NATGAS act would allow them to profit from their research, design and development.
Clean Energy Fuels supplies liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG), and specializes in the development of natural gas distribution platforms. Westport and Fuel Systems offer engine and fueling systems for vehicles that run on CNG, an alternative to gasoline, and LNG, an alternative to diesel.
Brown said that all three companies would profit handsomely on passage of the NATGAS act and that all three will be harmed should Congress scuttle the Menendez Amendment.
Pickens, Soros, Douglas fund NATGAS act proponents
The three investors and their affiliates are on record as financially supporting proponents of the NATGAS act, according to FEC reports. Douglas and his wife Michelle have contributed more than $130,000 to President Barack Obama, Democrats and Democratic super PACs since 2009, according to FEC records, including to Nat Gas act supporter Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.).
Soros’ history of Democratic financial support is well known, such as $1.5 million to MoveOn.org from 2003 and 2004. In 2011, Soros gave $175,000 to the House Majority PAC and the Majority PAC, two super PACs whose donations have come mostly from American labor unions, according to FEC records. He has also given broadly to Democratic committees since 2009.
Pickens, his wife Madeleine and senior employees of Clean Energy Fuels have contributed more than $150,000 to politicians and committees that support the NATGAS act, according to FEC reports. Pickens and his wife gave $60,800 to House Representatives, including the act’s sponsor, Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.)
To Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or related committees, the couple has given $20,800. To the Democratic Parties of New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, all key states for the natural gas industry, the couple has given $30,000.
Clean Energy Fuels employees have given a combined $19,750 to congressional representatives who support the NATGAS act, and $10,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a HUMAN EVENTS review of FEC reports. Clean Energy Fuels employees have also given $7,800 to Sen. Reid and $4,400 to Sen. Menendez.
Fuel Systems in Iran
Details regarding Fuel Systems’ business in Iran are available in the company’s Form 10-K filed March 8, 2012 for the year ended Dec. 31, 2011. The company’s investor relations spokesperson declined to comment on the companies operations in Iran and phone calls to the company’s corporate office were not returned as of Tuesday morning.
The SEC document, filed March 8, 2012 for the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, contains the following:
Some of our foreign subsidiaries have done, and may continue to do, business in countries subject to U.S. sanctions and embargoes, including Iran.
Some of our foreign subsidiaries sell fuel delivery systems, related parts and accessories to customers in Iran, a country currently subject to sanctions and embargoes imposed by the U.S. government, the European Union (“EU”), the United Nations, and other countries. In addition to Iran, there are other countries that are also subject to sanctions. These sanctions are complex. We believe we have procedures in place to conduct U.S. and foreign operations without violating U.S., EU, or other sanctions. However, if we fail to comply with U.S. sanctions, EU sanctions or other sanctions in our foreign operations, we could be subject to material fines and penalties and incur damage to our reputation, which may lead to a reduction in the market price of our common stock.
In addition, our foreign subsidiaries’ sales to Iran could reduce demand for our common stock among certain of our investors for political reasons.
Recent Iranian sanction laws and regulations have adversely affected our revenues and may cause us other adverse consequences.
In June 2010, the United Nations Security Council by Resolution voted to impose a new and expanded round of sanctions against Iran. In July 2010, the European Union implemented the UN Resolution. On July 1, 2010, President Obama signed into law the new Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (the “CISADA”). In November 2011, President Obama signed Executive Order 13590 imposing broad sanctions similar to those included within the CISADA and which expressly apply to any individual or entity (whether or not a U.S. person). In January 2012, the EU expanded its sanctions against Iran. The expanded round of laws and regulations imposing sanctions on Iran has not significantly impacted our revenues derived from this country. We can offer no assurance that any further expansion of Iranian sanctions will not further adversely affect our revenues and cause us other adverse consequences.