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
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