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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended November 03, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 31Oct00

By Rosemary Pollock

Arizona's LDS House Speaker Faces Heat Over Alternative Fuel Program

MESA, ARIZONA -- A high level of participation in a predominately LDS neighborhood in Mesa, Arizona in a federally funded program by the Environmental Protection Agency, has spurred a criminal investigation by the Department of Commerce. On Friday, Attorney General Janet Napolitano announced a criminal investigation into more than 20,000 applications that have been submitted for an alternative-fuel vehicle rebate program.

House Speaker Jeff Groscost, who is an LDS Church member, authored the state's controversial alternative-fuel vehicle law that was originally going to cost the state $5 million in rebates or tax credits this year. To date the estimated cost is approaching $483 million, creating a public outcry and legislative hearings. The nearly hundred fold increase in the state program is due Groscost's successful lobbying of the federal EPA to extend a regulation that allows the conversion of nearly all new vehicles to run on propane or compressed natural gas with gasoline.

For example, if the original cost of an SUV is $25,000 and the cost to convert it to run on compressed natural gas is $7,000, participants could be reimbursed the entire conversion expense plus 30 percent or $9,600 of the $32,000 total vehicle cost. The reasons for the high level participation in the East Valley is as varied as the individuals who have signed up.

Speaker Groscost has held dozens of meetings in his Mesa neighborhood touting the advantages of the state's controversial alternative-fuel rebate program. Dozens of neighbors have signed up for the program that have made the quarter-mile area around Groscost's ranch-style house the alternative-fuel epicenter. One neighbor has put in for nine rebates, all used by family members. "Nothing for resale," Merle Halls said. "We wanted to clean the air; they made it economical."

Elijah A. Cardon, resident and owner of a chain of Valley gas stations held three meetings since June at his home. "The first meeting, we all signed up if we were interested in the program," said neighbor Charlie Keating. Dozens attended the meetings, listening not only to Groscost but to a car dealer, a Mesa official and a Department of Commerce representative. "The meetings were informational," said neighbor, Charlie Keating. "I never saw anyone push anything for their own benefit."

The high rate of participation caused Gov. Jane Hull to announce early in October that those signing up for the rebate program would no longer be paid the rebate in a lump sum. "Jeff explained that if you don't do it until after the 11th [of October], you will be paid over five years," Keating said.

The investigation has caused some concern to Groscost who will seek election to the state Senate on November 7. Senate Finance Chairman Scott Bundgaard, R-Glendale, will suspend his panel's probe of the program now that Napolitano is conducting a criminal investigation.

Groscost's neighborhood is a close-knit community where the majority are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "There is a lot of finger pointing going [on]. They want to strap Jeff to a pole and set it on fire," Halls said. "I don't believe he actively forced the program down anyone's throat." "The program was overly generous, but it had to be to get things started," Halls added.

Another concern faces those neighbors who have taken advantage of the alternative-fuel program. Their vehicles will carry special license plates that will allow them the use of HOV lanes. "You wonder if you are going to be a moving target," quipped Halls.


Groscost neighbors cashing in
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 29Oct00 T2
By David Parrish and Ryan Konig: Arizona Republic


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