Metro Also Has to Wean Itself Off Natural Gas to Protect the Planet
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Elliott Negin, D.C. Environmental Network, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-997-1472
WASHINGTON (March 24, 2023)—Calling it “a step in the right direction,” the Metro Electric Bus Coalition was pleasantly surprised yesterday when Metro managers released their new, updated Zero-Emission Bus Plan, which shaved three years off the original schedule to transition its 1,600 buses to a zero-emission fleet.
Metro’s target date for reaching a 100-percent zero-emission fleet is now 2042, not 2045. Metro is also planning to stop buying fossil fuel buses by 2027. The coalition urged Metro to move even faster.
“The new plan is a step in the right direction,” said Johanna Wermers from the Maryland Sierra Club, a member of the Metro Electric Bus Coalition, “but Metro is still lagging behind other transit agencies. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report warns that we are running out of time to drastically cut carbon emissions. Metro needs to put the pedal to the metal.”
Metro customarily buys 100 new buses a year to replace the oldest buses in its fleet. As soon as it installs electric bus charging infrastructure at some of its garages, the coalition says Metro should buy more than 100 battery electric buses a year to fill them up to capacity as quickly as possible.
“There is no law that says Metro can’t buy more than 100 buses a year,” said Elliott Negin from the D.C. Environmental Network, a coalition member. “Other transit agencies are retiring their older fossil fuel buses more quickly to make way for electric buses. There is no reason why Metro can’t do that, too.”
The plan released yesterday repeated Metro’s false claim that its transition “goals are in alignment with the trajectory of the larger transit industry, as agencies across the country adopt similar goals to transition their respective fleets to [zero-emission buses].” As the coalition has previously pointed out, Metro’s goals are decidedly out of alignment. Bus fleets in Los Angeles County (2,320 buses) and Houston (1,230 buses), for example, are scheduled to be all-electric by 2030; buses in King County, Washington’s fleet (1,600 buses), which services Seattle, will be electrified by 2035; and buses in Chicago (1,860 buses) and New York City (5,900 buses) are slated to be all-electric by 2040.
Smaller fleets in our region also are ahead of Metro. The DC Circulator bus fleet will be all-electric by 2029, while Montgomery County’s RideOn buses, Alexandria’s DASH buses, and Fairfax County’s Connector buses will be fully electric by 2035.
The coalition also is concerned that Metro still plans to spend more than $5 million on a new compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station—which would be its third—to enable it to expand the percentage of CNG buses in its fleet from 28 percent to nearly 50 percent. Metro originally planned to install the fueling station at its Shepherd Parkway Garage in Anacostia six months after the garage opened in the fall of 2012. Ten years later, it is only about halfway built.
Natural gas is composed of 70 to 90 percent methane, which traps more heat in the atmosphere per molecule than carbon dioxide, making it 86 times more harmful than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it is released. Given cutting methane would be the fastest way to reduce near-term warming, 150 countries have pledged to cut anthropogenic methane emissions by at least 30 percent this decade.
Metro should reduce its reliance on methane, the coalition says, not increase it. The coalition urges Metro to halt construction of the new CNG fueling station and stop buying CNG buses, which, when it comes to lifecycle carbon emissions, are only marginally better than conventional diesel buses.
According to Argonne National Laboratory data, CNG buses’ lifecycle global warming emissions are on average only 6.4 percent lower than that of a conventional diesel bus and, in many circumstances, are nearly the same due to relatively poor fuel economy and widespread methane leaks. A 2022 Sierra Club investigation found nearly 400 methane leaks in the District across all wards. A 2021 D.C. Department of Energy & Environment study, meanwhile, found 3,346 locations in District residential neighborhoods where methane levels in the air exceeded naturally occurring background levels. Most of the methane, the study determined, came from the natural gas delivery system.
“Metro should not double down on methane when everyone else is weaning themselves off of it,” said Steve Banashek, the electric transportation chair of the Virginia Sierra Club, another coalition member. “It is fiscally irresponsible to build a new CNG facility at Shepherd Parkway and expand the CNG fueling facility at the Bladensburg Garage based on the patently false claim CNG buses are ‘low-emission.’”
The DC Council unanimously passed a resolution in February 2022 calling on Metro to buy only electric buses going forward, transition to at least a 50-percent electric bus fleet by 2030, and abandon its plans to build a new CNG fueling facility at the Shepherd Parkway Garage. Metro ignored the resolution.
The Metro Electric Bus Coalition includes: Chesapeake Climate Action Network, D.C. Environmental Network, Earthjustice, Electric Vehicle Association of Metropolitan Washington, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, Green Latinos, Greenpeace USA, Loudon Climate Project, Maryland Legislative Coalition, Moms Clean Air Force, Nature Forward (formerly Audubon Naturalist Society), Northern Bus Barn Neighbors, Northern Bus Garage Community Environment Committee, Sierra Club D.C. Chapter, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, and Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.