Politicians like to be seen as trend setters and innovators. Usually, that means using taxpayers' money.
Especially when it comes to energy, officials at all levels of government are prone to give themselves credit for advances. As often as not, taxpayers need not have been put on the hook for expensive new energy projects, however. The private sector usually is eager to lead - providing there's a good idea involved.
Use of compressed natural gas in vehicles is an excellent example.
Nearly all cars and trucks are designed to run on gasoline or diesel fuel. But because the U.S. imports vast quanitites of petroleum, prices have skyrocketed during the past few years. The average price of a gallon of gasoline last week was $3.44. Ten years ago it was $1.58.
Because vast quantities of domestic natural gas are being exploited now, it is becoming attractive as a vehicle fuel. It can be cheaper to operate a car or truck on CNG than on gasoline or diesel fuel.
One challenge is finding a place to fill up, however. CNG filling stations are few and far between.
That has prompted some politicians to explore the idea of using taxpayer money to subsidize construction of CNG stations.
Thank heaven government sometimes moves with excruciating slowness. The private sector already has begun establishing a network of CNG stations that, within a year or two, may make it practical for area residents to buy and drive natural gas-fueled vehicles.
Just this week, we reported American Natural Supply is "actively seeking" an opportunity to build a CNG station in Belmont County. The company already has one in Pittsburgh. Other firms operate CNG stations in Washington, Pa., and Zanesville, Ohio.
In August, another firm, IGS Energy CNG Services, broke ground for a CNG station in Charleston. It has plans for facilities in Bridgeport, W.Va., and Jane Lew, W.Va., both along Interstate 79.
A true revolution in how vehicles are fueled - and how much it costs Americans to get from Point A to Point B - seems to be in progress. And government is having very little to do with it.
Needless to say, that's a good thing.