CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When I became governor 12 years ago, my administration implemented a pilot program to utilize natural gas school busses in West Virginia. Unfortunately, neither the economics nor the infrastructure caught up with the initiative in time to make it a full-blown investment. That program, however, taught us a lot about natural gas vehicles and how we could use them to cut fuel costs, maintenance downtime and utilize domestic energy.
Now, West Virginia is at a crossroads. Technology for natural gas vehicles has caught up with demand and fueling stations will soon be coming to the Mountain State. No longer will we be looking at a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. More than 100,000 natural gas vehicles are currently on the road across the United States -- and millions more are being utilized around the world. These cars and trucks run more efficiently on cleaner fuel and fewer particulates than their traditional counterparts. National companies such as AT&T, UPS and Waste Management have used these vehicles for years.
Natural gas is produced in West Virginia -- and it should be used for the benefit of our residents. With fewer emissions than traditional fuels and lower costs, the choice for transportation and heavy truck uses that refuel at the same station every night is clear.
The state of Oklahoma, with its considerable number of natural gas fields, already has more than 80 stations. In West Virginia, we are part of the second largest gas field in the world with the Marcellus Shale. Because of new technology, natural gas prices have plunged and are expected to stay low for decades.
Both Kanawha and Harrison counties have taken action to incorporate natural gas vehicles into their vehicles, which is an effort that is underway in many other states. Kanawha County announced the purchase of 20 new vehicles for its fleet, and the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority announced eight buses. Kanawha County also recently purchased its first natural gas vehicle -- a Chevy Tahoe. It operates on the equivalent of $1.89 a gallon. Instead of sending almost half a trillion dollars to foreign countries, we can help turn around our own economy by investing in a fuel that literally comes from beneath our own mountains.
West Virginia's finances have turned around during the last 12 years, since we first entered the Governor's Mansion. Workers' compensation has been reformed, taxes have been cut, budgets are balanced, debt has been paid down and the state's unemployment rate is lower than the national average.
Good things are happening in West Virginia, and the state now has the opportunity to do even more to help itself. By lowering fuel bills, schools will have more money to put into classrooms and school buildings. Municipalities will be able to repair sidewalks, pave streets and ensure that employee pensions are more solvent. And businesses will be able to put more people to work and expand as their transportation costs are lowered.
Everything around us depends on transportation and energy. West Virginia finds itself at an incredible crossroads, but the two can come together, where each assists the other.
Wise, a former 2nd District congressman, was West Virginia's 33rd governor.