Interview with Thomas Lawson (President of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition)

   Thomas Lawson, former director of legislative affairs for the state attorney general, brings both Sacramento savvy and big ambitions to his new position as president of the California NGV Coalition. In this Q&A published by CNGVC, he shares his plans for ensuring that NGVs live up to their potential to drive down emissions and contribute to meeting California’s ambitious climate change goals.


What attracted you to the Coalition?


   I started to pay attention to clean transportation last year during the battle over SB 350 (the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015). I realized how important transportation is to California and to climate change, which is the most important thing we need to address in the next 15 to 20 years.

   The opportunity to work for the Coalition is extremely important to me because it needs to be said that natural gas is the fuel that will decrease NOx emissions and clean the air right now.


What are your priorities for the current legislative session?


   One of my priorities is to ensure that AB 2415 and AB 1964 are signed into law this year. AB 2415 is going to allow for more truck incentives to help heavy-duty fleets transition to natural gas. AB 1964 will extend the HOV lane sticker program, which is key to getting drivers to think about purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle.

   Also, I think the Legislature should put more resources into CARB and the CEC to support the development of RNG in California. We’re advocating for a bigger slice of the pie. Others also want more money, so it’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s a battle we need to fight. I look forward to pursuing a bigger allocation for RNG in this year’s budget.

   Education and advocacy are also priorities. In this session, I’d like to give legislators and CARB and CEC members more hands-on experience with NGVs so they can see that this technology is ready right now. I’d like to arrange for them to tour a natural gas fueling facility, let them drive an NGV, and even fill one up. I’d love to get a truck with the Cummins Westport near-zero-emission engine on display on the Capitol steps to show that this engine is the real deal. It’s certified and ready to go right now, no smoke and mirrors.

   I’m also reaching out to the California Trucking Association, and I think they will be an important ally in making the case for deploying the cleanest available technology, especially in the heavy-duty sector.


You have an extensive public policy background—that’s obviously a great benefit for the Coalition. What particular skills and public policy experiences are going to be most helpful for advocating for natural gas transportation?


   I’ve spent a decade in and around the state capitol, and I’ve learned how turn an idea into law and made great connections along the way. Members have changed, but many of the staff people I’ve gotten to know are now in leadership positions.

   I understand the process, how to navigate Sacramento, and the unofficial language of the capitol. I’ve learned how to navigate around hurdles.


What do you think is the most important public policy issue facing Coalition members?


   We need to extend the Low Carbon Fuel Standard—2020 is right around the corner, and folks on the business side who are trying to get contracts would love more long-term stability.

   We also need to show CARB how important natural gas is to achieving their goals. That has been—and will be—one of the biggest hurdles. But I am optimistic with the appointment of the new environmental justice board member. We will work with them to make communities safer and cleaner, especially underserved, low-income communities of color.


What makes you most excited about leading the Coalition?


   I’m excited about what we’re going to accomplish. The goal is to grow the Coalition to be a leader in the state capitol, have influence, and produce results for the natural gas transportation industry. My predecessor has done a great job of growing the organization, and now we’re going to take it to the next level.


By California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition

May 9, 2016