National Sierra Club News

The Latest National Sierra Club News

Here are the latest stories from The Compass, our RSS ticker of current national Sierra Club news:

Donald Trump released his budget late Monday and, as expected, its massive cuts target life-saving public health and environmental programs and standards. Once again, we’re seeing Trump put polluters ahead of the safety our families. This budget will make our communities sick while lining the pockets of the fossil fuel industry.

This budget’s severe cuts single out our clean air and water and our attempts to fight climate disruption. It’s a lot to dig through, so I narrowed it down to some of the worst of the worst.

Trump’s budget takes an axe to the Environmental Protection Agency - and not just to its core programs. This budget hacks away at grants to states, cutting them by 45 percent,. These grants provide essential financial assistance to states and tribes to help them develop and implement environmental programs like pollution clean-up. Trump’s budget also indiscriminately eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, including Energy Star, America’s favorite program for saving money through energy efficiency; the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which conducts research on how chemicals affect our bodies; and infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native Villages, which provides sanitation services for rural communities in Alaska.

Funding for key clean air programs would be cut nearly in half, putting children at significantly greater risk of cancer and asthma attacks. Meanwhile, according to the American Lung Association, 125 million Americans already live in counties with unhealthy air quality.

Superfund programs address threats posed by abandoned industrial sites, city landfills, and military depots contaminated by hazardous substances and pollutants that have been linked to higher cancer risks and other diseases; the popular Brownfields program, meanwhile, helps towns and cities redevelop former industrial sites. While EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Trump claim they want to get EPA “back to basics” by keeping the critical Superfund and Brownfield programs, this budget goes in the opposite direction by making enormous and completely counterproductive cuts to both of those programs, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

This budget directly targets communities around the country by completely eliminating all spending on nearly a dozen state and regional  programs that provide vital research and protection for treasured watersheds, including programs on the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay basin, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, South Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay-Delta.

The budget eliminates funding for much of our important international climate leadership, including zeroing out funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which coordinates global climate research; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the infrastructure for international climate negotiations like the Paris Agreement; the UN Green Climate Fund (GCF); and climate programs at agencies like the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

This budget discontinues funding for the life-saving Clean Power Plan, the first ever national plan to reduce carbon pollution and fight climate disruption. What’s more - it also disbands the Climate Change Adaptation Program, which helps communities tackle the threats of sea level rise and other consequences of the climate crisis.

The budget is devastating for environmental justice programs and initiatives. It proposes eliminating EPA’s environmental justice division, as well as the agency’s lead pollution reduction and radon detection programs. These communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution rely on strong enforcement of environmental protections by EPA, and as one former EPA official put it, “[More cuts] won’t just drastically reduce EPA enforcement, it will bring it to a halt.”

He would also eliminate the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance and Low-income Home Energy Assistance Programs, which are essential safety nets that help millions of low-income Americans stay warm and keep the lights on.

The budget makes deep cuts to climate science research across multiple agencies, including slashing funding for NASA’s world class earth science program by nearly $170 million, eliminating several significant missions in the process. This NASA program gathers essential climate and weather data that are the foundation of domestic and international climate research.

The budget eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership that supports economic development in thirteen states including my home state of West Virginia, places that need more federal support -- not less -- to diversify our economies as the coal industry declines.

The targets of these budget cuts are actually wildly popular with Americans. For example, by a nearly two-to-one margin, Americans oppose Trump making substantial cuts to the EPA’s budget. According to a recent survey by Quinnipiac University, 72 percent of U.S. voters say it’s a “bad idea” to significantly cut funding for scientific research on the environment and climate change. Meanwhile, two-in-three Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election (65 percent) said they would oppose any effort by the Trump administration to take away the EPA's ability to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

We will fight this budget every step of the way. Our families and communities deserve strong public health and environmental standards, not rollbacks that will handcuff the agencies charged with protecting our clean air, clean water, and so much more. Join us.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump was fond of promising that on “day one” of his presidency he would “announce” plans to “totally renegotiate” NAFTA – the 1994 trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. For the first 118 days, he failed to present any such plan.  

On day 119 – May 18th – the Trump administration managed to send Congress roughly one page of vague statements about NAFTA. The content-free letter started a 90-day period before NAFTA renegotiation can begin.

The most remarkable feature of Trump’s announcement was what it failed to include: anything resembling a plan to fix a deal that has eliminated jobs, eroded wages, undermined climate protections, and polluted our air and water for over two decades.

We cannot afford more empty rhetoric. We need a serious plan to replace NAFTA with a new deal that prioritizes people and our planet, not corporate polluters. It’s no mystery what this plan should include. Leading environmental organizations, unions, consumer groups, and family farmers have all detailed the fundamental changes that must be in any NAFTA renegotiation.

Will Trump adopt these changes? Will he work to replace NAFTA with a deal that supports good union jobs, livable wages, climate justice, clean air and water, and healthy communities? Given that he has stacked his cabinet with Wall Street billionaires who support corporate trade deals, job offshoring, and climate denial, that’s not what we’d wager.

The first test for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation is how the deal will be negotiated. It will only benefit the public if the negotiation process is conducted in the open, not in a corporate board room. The secretive, corporate-dominated negotiating system that produced NAFTA must be replaced by one in which proposals and negotiating texts are posted online, and the public is invited to comment on trade rules that would impact their jobs, wages, health, air, and water.

But nothing in Trump’s NAFTA announcement indicates that this is the direction he’s heading. The corporate trade negotiating system that produced NAFTA remains intact for Trump’s NAFTA redux. Without a transparent process, one could be forgiven for suspecting that the Trump administration may try to use the renegotiation to pad the profits of the corporate polluters that fill his own cabinet.

Here’s another clear test for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation: Does it eliminate the special protections for corporations that enable them to offshore jobs and attack our environmental and health laws in tribunals of corporate lawyers? This is a bright line test – either NAFTA’s replacement allows polluters to sue governments in corporate tribunals, or it doesn’t.

Trump’s one-page NAFTA letter fails to say anything about this. But his more detailed NAFTA plan that leaked in March bluntly committed to “maintain” this handout to corporate polluters and job offshorers. So much for “totally renegotiating” NAFTA.

There are a host of additional changes that must be made to NAFTA to reverse the deal’s damage – none of which made it into Trump’s NAFTA letter. For example, to replace NAFTA’s race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards with a race to the top, a new deal should require each country to adopt living wages, enact policies to implement the Paris climate agreement, and penalize carbon-intensive imports.

And to align NAFTA with our efforts to tackle climate change, rules that encourage increased fossil fuel dependency must be replaced with rules that accelerate our clean energy transition. For example, a NAFTA replacement should facilitate the use of climate criteria in spending and regulatory decisions to boost the creation of renewable energy jobs.

Again, is this the NAFTA renegotiation that Trump has in mind?  Not according to his cabinet members. Trump’s Commerce Secretary – a billionaire former coal CEO who offshored jobs before becoming the head of Trump’s trade team – has explicitly stated that the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have expanded NAFTA’s threats to workers and the environment, could serve as the “starting point” for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation.

If Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 does indeed become an attempt to revive the TPP, it will face vigorous opposition from the same movement of millions – across sectors, borders, and party lines – that defeated the TPP in the first place.

By burying the TPP, that movement loudly called for an entirely new approach to trade that benefits working families and healthy communities, not corporate insiders. Early signs indicate that Trump intends to head in precisely the opposite direction. It’s up to us to stop him.

Ben Beachy From Compass

A look at the schedules and media appearances of Trump’s EPA head Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reveals that these appointees -- responsible for protecting public health, the environment, and our public lands -- are for the most part refusing to speak with the general public and, instead, sticking by the side of the fossil fuel industry and right-wing media as they push polluter interests at the expense of our families’ health.

The Washington Post reports today that Zinke’s schedule shows that he has “held more than a half-dozen meetings with executives from nearly two dozen oil and gas firms during the period [since he became secretary], including BP America, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. He also spent time with the American Petroleum Institute, the Western Energy Alliance, and Continental Resources chief executive Harold Hamm.” At the same time, Zinke has apparently spoken with as few as two reporters from mainstream publications, preferring to go on outlets such as Fox News (five times in two months), Breitbart, and National Review.

Last night, Pruitt canceled his on-the-record presentation at the Hoover Institute. Pruitt’s media exposure, meanwhile, has reportedly limited his public interactions almost exclusively to FOX News or its affiliates, where, according to E&E News, he has appeared at least eight times since April 1. For diversity, Pruitt has also spoken with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt and “the media arm of the Heritage Foundation.” His choices are no doubt driven in part by the fact that his appearance on CNBC’s "Squawk Box,” where he said falsely and in contradiction to science that human activity was not "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," provoked such awful national headlines and exposure that he simply can’t stand the heat of any actual look at his policies.

And let’s not even get started on Pruitt’s meetings with industry….

Sierra Club Media Team From Compass

With 14,146 restaurants in the U.S. alone and 36,899 restaurants worldwide, McDonald’s is the world's second largest employer. This means the fast food giant has a huge cultural, economic, and environmental footprint that unfortunately is used to harm workers and our environment.

We cannot resist Trump’s attacks on workers, families, and our environment without resisting the corporations that rig the economy, harm our environment, and put Americans across the country in danger. In the Trump era, it is more important than ever that our movements join forces. In this moment of extremist right-wing control in Washington, those fighting for progressive change -- for a living wage, climate action, immigrant rights, and more -- must support each other.

That’s why the Sierra Club is proud to support the thousands of workers and supporters of workers rights as they converge outside of the McDonald’s shareholder meeting in Chicago to lead the March on McDonald's on May 23rd and 24th. Then, thousands of workers will converge on McDonald’s headquarters as part of the Fight for $15 campaign, demanding the company help to support American workers rather than supporting policies that only make their lives harder.

McDonald’s subscribes to a dangerous corporate model, paying so little that their own workers can't afford to eat the very food they sell and running global supply chains that emit the extreme levels of carbon pollution that’s destroying our climate. Often, the industries that pollute the most pay the least. McDonald’s is no exception. The Sierra Club supports workers in their call for the fast-food giant to use its power and influence to lift up working people rather than drive a race to the bottom.

It’s time for a change. The fight for a living wage and the fight for a living planet cannot be separated. Corporations are raking in massive profits, but the toxic shortcuts for those profits come at the expense of their workers, causing their low-wage employees to live without the ability to cover their basic needs like food and health care for their families, child care, a roof over their head, and transportation to their jobs, all while bearing the brunt of their employer’s corporate pollution.

When McDonald’s adds to killer heat waves, deadly wildfires, and fatal floods by using massive amounts of fossil fuels, its own workers are among those families who suffer the most. So McDonald’s not only contributes heavily to climate change, their dangerously low wages trap families with its worst effects. Low wages mean McDonald’s workers can't afford to flee from climate induced natural disasters. Low wages mean McDonald’s workers must raise their families in low-income neighborhoods, often that means in the backyard of  coal plants, fracking sites, and oil refineries. By not providing it’s workers a living wage, McDonald’s is burdening its workers with the worst impacts of its pollution.  This pollution isn’t cheap -- hospital and doctor's visits, asthma inhalers and other health needs add up, and on low wages, are extremely difficult to cover. When the children living under clouds of pollution get sick, mothers without a living wage and without paid leave are forced to choose between missing work and much needed income to take care of their children, or making enough money to pay for the costs of healthcare. What’s more, McDonald’s is known to cut workers hours below full time and doesn’t provide paid leave, meaning families are left without vital health insurance and without time off, increasing healthcare costs even further.

McDonald’s is a billion-dollar corporation, they can and must do better. This year’s Fight for $15 mobilization in Chicago will make that call louder than ever before. McDonald’s must invest in people, provide paid family leave, and pay their employees a living wage. McDonald’s must invest in our communities and source their products locally. McDonald’s must act on climate. Workers and families deserve better. Until McDonald’s changes its ways for the better, we won’t be loving it.

Dean Hubbard From Compass

Since the election, I often find myself recalling the wisdom of a former boss I had in my labor union organizing days. Whenever I’d too urgently covey the long list of  problems I was grappling with and I wanted him to help solve, he’d say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Lisa! One tragedy at a time.” That always slowed me down enough to take a breath, roll up my sleeves and start over again with a deeper sense of my own agency.

The Trump presidency creates the constant sensation of tragedy on many fronts: civil and immigrants’ rights, access to health care and public education, clean air and water and a livable climate, the list goes on. I think about the word “distress” more than I used to - as if we’re all walking around with that sensation an arm’s length away at best.

As a mom of two boys who are nine and twelve, I’m angered by Trump’s actions to roll-back climate protections--and his failure to protect kids and communities from the fossil fuel pollution that spikes asthma rates and causes climate impacts like droughts and floods. My kids know about the importance of climate activism, because when they were little I co-founded an organization called Climate Parents, which recently became a program of the Sierra Club. We mobilize diverse parents and families across the country for clean energy and climate solutions. My boys can connect the dots between Trump’s attacks on climate policy and the political power of the fossil fuel industry. They understand the need to move rapidly toward 100 percent clean energy, and they’ve marched in enough rallies to know that realizing our goals takes people power.

But there’s a new level of “sinister” unfolding that up to now my boys have mostly experienced through reading about Voldemort, Harry Potter’s evil nemesis. In the last two weeks, the Trump Administration dismissed half of the expert members of a board that advises the EPA on the integrity of its science,  an EPA senior policy advisor told coal industry executives she wants to make sure the EPA is working for them, the newly appointed acting head of the Department of Energy’s renewable energy office has actively questioned the value of renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions. And in a special blow aimed squarely at teachers and inquisitive school children, the Pruitt-led EPA buried a popular student guide and educational videos on climate change that was formerly featured on the agency’s site.

Trump’s deep commitment to his own reality, in which he asserts that climate change is a hoax and where he so fully maintains his widely discounted fantasy that millions of people voted illegally in 2016 that he just formed an investigative committee on voter fraud—are a deep threat to our democracy.

So what do I tell my boys about this particular wave of darkness? What do I try to demonstrate through my actions? In words they can understand, which are increasingly all words—especially the bad ones—I tell them this:

We cannot take our democracy for granted. There are many tragedies unfolding at once. And you can work against them all. Just make sure to take enough time to understand the depths of each one, and the allies with whom you need to build relationships. You’ve both been on lots of different kinds of teams—it’s sort of like that. You carefully scan the field, you roll up your sleeves, you take a deep breath, and you act. Because life is precious and you are precious, and this is what it required of us.

I tell myself the pretty much the same thing. ​I think that the countless numbers of parents I see mobilizing against Trump—both online or hand-in-hand with their children at a march—intuitively understand that more is required of us at this moment in time. So, inspired by our kids, we step up. And therein lies our hope.

Lisa Hoyos From Compass

I remember as a little girl peering into the bathroom to watch my mom lean toward the mirror and meticulously apply her mascara and eyeliner. She left with a swirl of perfume in her tracks, the floral scent lingering in the hallway. My own introduction to cosmetics was through stage makeup and hairspray in junior high school theatre. And I have fond memories of sharing my grandma’s lipstick on our outings together. Our lips lined in a matching plum color, we would soar around town.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned those products could have a lasting impact beyond rosy cheeks and defined eyelashes --that this makeup lasts longer than our girls’ night out. Skin is porous and capable of absorbing these products. It is estimated that the average adult uses nine personal care products each day, with 126 unique chemical ingredients. And because cosmetics aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, that adds up to 12.2 million adults—one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men—being exposed daily to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens.  

In 2006, Environmental Working Group partnered with Rachel’s Network on biomonitoring studies of a national network of women and found traces of up to 48 chemical contaminants were present in the blood of the women tested. The chemicals identified in their bloodstreams were mostly from unregulated household goods, plastics, beauty products, food, and water. More than a decade later, these challenges still persist with unregulated products and are disproportionately impacting low income communities and people of color.

A similar study of newborns detected bisphenol A (BPA) in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified the plastic chemical in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian, and Hispanic descent. There are more than 80,000 of these unregulated chemicals on the planet right now. How many of them are our bodies absorbing?

This Mother’s Day, as I take my mom out for a special celebration of all that she taught me about what it means to be a woman, I also think of the messages companies are trying to tell us, too. If a company tells me “you’re worth it,” I believe that I am worthy of toxic-free products, too. I hope that mothers around the world are able to teach their daughters how to be champions of their own health—make-up or not—and for companies that are marketing to women to pledge to be toxic-free and to disclose fragrance ingredients.

  A. Tianna Scozzaro From Compass

As moms, we can’t wait for this Sunday’s holiday, filled with adorable homemade craft projects, meals with family, and lots of hugs. For our families, spending time outdoors is another way of sharing some love - love of our families  and of our natural world. It turns out we’re not alone. According to a new report, moms play a pivotal role in inspiring a passion for the outdoors in the next generation.

We love taking our kids (Mary Anne’s daughter Hazel is 7 and Jackie’s son Dylan is almost 2) into the woods and to our local waterways. We all love camping, hiking, gardening, and biking together, and it’s truly magical to see the outdoors through a child’s eyes. They notice the little things, they appreciate what many adults overlook, and we long to keep that fire burning within them as they grow older, both because it will bring them great joy, and because we hope making a connection to nature now will inspire them to protect it as they grow up.

Unfortunately, today’s children are growing up indoors, with fewer opportunities to explore nature than we had in our childhood. In fact, today’s kids spend 50 percent less time outdoors than our generation did as children - isn't that shocking? Some of the barriers to spending time outdoors are lack of public parks that are safe and close to home, insufficient public transportation  connected to natural areas, and school budget cuts which have led to reductions in field trips.

The recent REI report on women in the outdoors highlights some statistics that trouble us:

63 percent of women said they could not think of an outdoor female role model6 in 10 women say that men’s interests in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s

What role can moms play in changing those statistics? We play a very big part, as it turns out. Here’s the good news from the same REI report: “Mothers are the number one mentor that women cite when asked about who inspires them to get outdoors.” In fact, both of our moms played a key role in inspiring our love for the outdoors, and they are our role models as we do the same for our kids.

Jackie Ostfeld and son Dylan

Mother’s Day is an opportunity for moms to continue to inspire and teach the love of the great outdoors to our kids. We know how great it is to be outside - the REI report shows that as well too:

More than 85 percent of all women surveyed believe the outdoors positively affects mental health, physical health, happiness and overall well-being, and 70% reported that being outdoors is liberating.

Moms can make amazing strides in getting their kids and families outdoors - it doesn’t have to involve planning a major trip to a National Park (although that’s fun, too!). Encouraging your kids to appreciate the outdoors can start close to home like in a local public park or a community garden. The first steps can be easy, like backyard campouts, exploring the wildlife in the neighborhood - from bugs to birds to flowers - and taking your kids and their friends and moms on hikes in a local park..

This Mother’s Day, get outdoors with your family. Plan some spring and summer hikes or park visits. Moms can and will continue to make a tremendous difference in ensuring kids can enjoy, explore and protect the outdoors. And moms can encourage other moms to help ensure all kids have opportunities to get outdoors, too! Pledge to help ensure all kids have opportunities to experience nature.

Share your story of getting outdoors with your family! Post a photo (new or old) on social media with your mom or your children with #MomsOutdoors or complete the following phrase  “My favorite memory with my #momsoutdoors is: ___”

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mary Anne Hitt, Jackie Ostfeld From Compass

In case you missed it, many of the things that we love and value--like clean air, clean water, good clean energy jobs, and the health of our families--are coming under attack with Donald Trump as president and his polluting ally, Scott Pruitt, as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Earlier this year, Trump ordered the EPA and other agencies to consider what rules or protections they could roll back--this executive order was nothing less than a giveaway to corporate polluters and the dirty fuel industry. What’s more, they’re not even giving the public a fair chance to speak out on these rollbacks and to participate in this process.

Trump and Pruitt are actively working undo many of the important safeguards that protect our health and our communities through a sham review process that’s really just a first step in an attempt to gut vital environmental safeguards and public health protections. They will tell us that we have the chance to comment on these protection rollbacks by May 15, but the truth is that the process is a total sham, made easy only for polluters and those who wish to grow their profits at the expense of our health in our communities.

Further, this process largely ignores those who benefit most from environmental and health protections, including: children, seniors, and fence-line communities--often low-income communities and communities of color. These vulnerable communities have been shut out in this current process. In the past, EPA’s rulemaking went to great measures to engage and collaborate with affected communities, this current stage has denied them that opportunity, depriving communities of the justice and fairness due to them in these proceedings.

Communities across the country, and most importantly those most vulnerable to pollution and toxic exposure in the communities where they live or attend school, deserve the fundamental rights that every American enjoys to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment which been thrown into doubt by EPA’s sham review process. It is therefore vital that Pruitt’s EPA reconsider its current process, which is substantively flawed, obviously biased, and procedurally deficient.

The EPA has provided little advance notice, has indicated no interest in holding hearings outside the DC-Metro area, and has given no clear signal even as to which EPA divisions will be involved. Some offices are holding limited, invitation-only sessions, while others are only holding teleconferences in lieu of actually interacting with the public. Scott Pruitt must ensure that the EPA runs an open and balanced process if it is to get a true picture of how these safeguards are keeping communities safe and how they feel about them.

This single-minded (and closed-minded) focus on eliminating protections could have immense consequences on EPA’s core mission to protect human health and the environment. Offices at the agency have delivered enormous benefits to the public in fulfilling their obligations--obligations that a regulatory review will not change. Environmental protections have saved lives, improved health, conserved resources, and spurred innovation, all while allowing for economic growth and providing far more in benefits than they cost.

With so much at stake, it’s more important than ever that American families be given a voice to really speak out about what we care about most.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA you support strong clean air and water protections!

Matthew Gravatt From Compass

Wednesday, May 10, every Senate Democrat and three Senate Republicans voted against a procedural vote that would have paved the way for revoking the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste prevention rule, a standard which would prevent the leaking and flaring of methane from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. The three Senate Republicans voting against the bill were Senators Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and, John McCain.

“Today is a victory for our public lands and for the health of families across America, and a defeat for Donald Trump, corporate polluters, and their friends on Capitol Hill. Protecting our communities and our public lands from pollution isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue, it’s an American one, and no matter how much corporate polluters and their allies in the White House and Capitol Hill rant and rave, they will never drown out the voices of millions of Americans demanding that we protect our public lands, clean air and water and the health of our communities. People across the country will continue to resist and hold Congress and Trump accountable for any efforts to put the profits of polluters before the health of our families and our communities," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director.

Take a moment to thank the senators below for voting to protect our public and tribal lands. Send them a thank you tweet:

Thank you, @SenatorTomUdall!

— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) May 10, 2017 //

Thank you @MartinHeinrich @SenatorCantwell @SenatorTomUdall & @SenBennetCO!

— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) May 10, 2017 //

Thank you @brianschatz @RonWyden @SenFranken & @SenatorCarper for standing strong on methane pollution standards! #CutMethane

— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) May 10, 2017 //

Thank you @SenSchumer & @SenatorDurbin for standing strong on methane pollution standards! #CutMethane

— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) May 10, 2017 //

Jonathon Berman From Compass

Just days ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to the leaders of L.A.’s transit agency,  L.A. Metro, urging them to transition to 100 percent electric buses by 2030. Now it’s up to the leaders of L.A. Metro to decide if they will make this important commitment. Given L.A. Metro’s enormous size, approximately 2,248 transit buses, this would be a very big deal.

It would not be the only transit agency making a large commitment to electric buses. King County Metro Transit, which serves the Seattle area, announced it will be adding 120 new all-electric buses over the next three years. Antelope Valley Transit Authority, south of Los Angeles, has announced a goal of a 100 percent electric bus fleet by 2018. Philadelphia recently announced it will add at least 25 new electric buses to its transit fleet. Miami-Dade County, Florida has put out a request for proposals to bus manufacturers for 33-75 electric buses. And Foothill Transit, which runs from Los Angeles to San Bernardino County, has committed to fully electrify its bus fleet, replacing all 361 buses in its fleet with zero emission buses by 2030.

Photo Above: A zero-emission bus in Antelope Valley, CA. Photo Credit: Evan Gillespie

Recently, New York Governor Cuomo and the New York City transit agency, MTA, announced a three year pilot program to test a mere 10 electric buses. For the largest transit agency in the United States with more than 5,800 buses, 10 buses is barely a drop in the bucket, and three years is way too long for a pilot, especially given that MTA has run previous electric bus pilot programs. Even MTA’s own sponsored analysis by Columbia University recommended a one year pilot and a much bigger electric bus commitment. In the meantime with each year we wait, MTA continues to purchase hundreds of diesel buses that spew up to 40 toxic contaminants each.

You can do better, New York. Smaller cities all over the country have realized the benefits of zero emission buses. Surely, if Seattle can commit to 120 electric buses, Rochester, New York to five electric transit buses, and Eugene, Oregon, a city a fraction of the size of New York City, to 10 electric transit buses (the same amount as NYC’s pilot), then our nation’s largest booming urban center can do much, much better.

Transit agencies and the residents and neighborhoods they serve are learning that zero emission buses are better for air quality, quieter, and lower in fueling costs and greenhouse gas emissions. But the time for pilot programs should be in the rear-view mirror. These buses have been tested over the last several years, and dirty diesel and natural gas buses are part of the reason urban air quality is so bad and climate emissions are so high.

Low-income people and people of color are two to three times more likely to be exposed to dangerous particulate pollution that largely comes from cars and trucks. Children in low-income urban neighborhoods suffer the most -- they live their lives surrounded by soot from dirty buses at a time when their lungs are still developing.

Fortunately, clean electric bus prices have dropped roughly 25 percent in the last four years, and further price drops are expected with declining battery costs. Mileage ranges are increasing, too.  Proterra now sells buses with ranges of up to 350 miles, New Flyer now has a 208 mile range bus, and BYD has a 60’ bus with a 200 mile range. With average routes in many transit agencies fewer than 150 miles, these depot charged buses can meet the needs of many routes today.  En-route charging can take care of most of the rest. Some companies are providing long-term battery warranties, while others are allowing for battery financing. Fueling and maintenance costs of electric buses are much lower than those of diesel and CNG buses, too.

To reduce the costs of buses further, many transit agencies are applying for federal LoNo grants. Additionally, many transit agencies are working with governors to use funding from the  Volkswagen settlement that could be set aside for electric transit or school buses.

Photo Above: Sierra Club rallies for zero-emission buses at a National Drive Electric Week event last year. Photo Credit: Sierra ClubNew York City Council Members Rafael Espinal and Stephen Levin are criticizing the MTA, including in this op-ed co-authored by Sierra Club’s Kat Fisher, for planning to bring hundreds of diesel (and non-electric) buses online as it shuts down one of the subway lines damaged by Hurricane Sandy. As Sierra Club Foundation Board member and New York City-based Oscar-nominated film-maker Darren Aronofsky said, "The MTA's decision to retreat to diesel is a depressing and an antiquated move. Hurricane Sandy, which damaged our beloved L train, was a product of human dependency on fossil fuels. Isn't it bitterly ironic that we are resorting to diesel [buses], the same poison that caused this problem in the first place? We need to pivot to the future [of electric buses] for our children's sake."

Last week, 100 New York City small businesses sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and other leaders of the MTA urging them to commit to: 1) 200 zero emission buses and hundreds of electric cars in its fleet (for MTA’s repair vehicles, etc.) to be in operation by 2019; and 2) all bus purchases by 2030 to be zero emission.

Similarly, in Massachusetts, environmental, labor, and health groups signed a letter to the state Secretary of Transportation last year urging the state and its regional transit agencies to commit in 2017 to: 1) by 2019, 100 Zero Emission Buses (ZEBs) incorporated into state transit bus fleets and 50 percent of new “non-revenue” transit fleet passenger vehicles purchased are electric; 2) by 2025, 50 percent new bus purchases are ZEBs; and 3) by 2030, 100 percent of new bus purchases are ZEBs. The six electric buses in Worcester, five committed for Boston, and three in Springfield/Holyoke are a nice start, but Massachusetts (my home state where I take the #72 MBTA bus nearly every day) needs to show its clean transportation leadership by significantly picking up the pace.

The leaders of L.A. Metro in Los Angeles should not only heed the call of the mayor from his recent letter urging a commitment to an all-electric transit bus fleet, but from community groups making the same call. While it is encouraging that LA Metro has previously committed to electrify its Orange and Silver bus lines, L.A. Metro operates the second largest bus fleet in the nation and could make a much bigger commitment. Surely, the County’s transit agency can show some compassion on its residents who suffer from some of the worst air pollution in the country. In Southern California, most of the air pollution comes from the cars, trucks, and buses that guzzle dirty oil and natural gas. In fact, Californians are more likely to die from that air pollution than from a car accident in the very vehicles that pump it out of their tailpipes.

People across California are watching closely to see what L.A. Metro does. Recently, Sierra Club, Jobs to Move America, IBEW, Environment California, Local 11, Food & Water Watch, South Bay 350, and others have been showing up at transit agency hearings to press for electric buses. The California Air Resources Board is currently drafting a statewide zero emission bus rule that may include a transition to zero emission buses by 2040. Opponents in the gas industry are working hard to weaken the rule in the hopes that agencies like L.A. Metro will stick with dirty compressed natural gas (CNG) buses for decades to come. L.A. Metro's fleet represents about 25 percent of all the buses in California. If big agencies like L.A. Metro can go electric, and small agencies like Antelope Valley Transit can do it by 2030 or sooner, so can everyone.

According to the California Air Resources Board, an electric bus emits the equivalent of 650 grams per mile of greenhouse gas pollutants compared to a whopping 3,000 from a diesel bus and 2,800 from a compressed natural gas bus. Electricity is the only transportation fuel that can be truly zero emission as we shift to clean energy. As we face increasing droughts, storms, and fires from climate change, and as the American Lung Association’s recent report tells us, nearly 40 percent of Americans live in areas with air that is unsafe to breathe, so cleaner transportation becomes more essential each passing day.

The time is now ripe to go all in on zero emission buses -with commitments that move us toward 100 percent electric. If San Bernardino County, California; Seattle, Washington; and Eugene, Oregon can do it, then so can New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and every small and large transit agency in between.

Sierra Club intern Maggie Newsham contributed to this article.

   Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Header photo by Vero Villa

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