St. Louis Charges Toward Clean Air with Electric Vehicles

This blog was co-authored with Maurice Muia, Climate Advisor to the City of St. Louis.

St. Louis continues to set a brisk pace on its path toward clean transportation: In February, Mayor Lyda Krewson signed an executive order that formally begins the transition for the city fleet, requiring city departments to prioritize acquiring electric vehicles (EVs) over conventional vehicles as part of the city’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050s. The order also directs the Board of Public Service (BPS) to deploy and manage EV charging stations and related infrastructure at sites where fleet vehicles are most frequently parked to increase accessibility. 

Mayor Lyda Krewson signed an executive order that formally begins St. Louis’ transition to clean electric vehicle (EV) transportation

Nick Schnelle for NRDC

Both the executive order and accompanying implementation guide were spearheaded by key leaders at the City of St. Louis—including Mayor Krewson, Sustainability Director Catherine Werner, Commissioner of Equipment Services Christopher Amos, Commissioner of Facilities Management Rick Ernst, and Transportation Policy Planner Scott Ogilvie—and supported by NRDC and Electrification Coalition via the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge

“Vehicle electrification plays such an important part in the city’s overall decarbonization efforts and steadfast commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050,” says Werner. “This is another bold step toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and decommissioning older, non–clean emissions vehicles.”

Sustainability Director Catherine Werner provides remarks about the importance of vehicle electrification in the city’s overall decarbonization efforts and commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050

Nick Schnelle for NRDC

St. Louis joins several other leading U.S. cities who have adopted so-called “electric first” purchasing policies—such as Albuquerque, Sacramento, and Charlotte, North Carolina, to name a few—while adding their own twist. The executive order requires departments to prioritize EVs over conventional vehicles where operationally feasible and cost-effective, defined as being within 5 percent of the lifecycle cost of a conventional vehicle. Uniquely, the implementation guide instructs departments to incorporate the social cost of carbon in these calculations, helping to internalize the impacts of climate change in the city’s decision-making.

In concert with the executive order, Mayor Krewson unveiled four new zero-emission, 100 percent electric Chevrolet Bolts to be used at the Department of Health, Comptroller’s Office, City Mail Room, and Board of Public Service. “We must continue to lead by example by embracing cleaner and alternative modes of transportation, which simultaneously helps fight climate change and improve air quality for our residents and our workers,” says Krewson. “There’s no better way to do that than by introducing electric vehicles into our own fleet.”

One of the City of St. Louis’ four new zero-emission, battery-electric Chevrolet Bolts

Nick Schnelle for NRDC

The incremental cost of the municipal EVs and all of their charging equipment costs will be covered by Volkswagen Trust Funds that were awarded through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Over the course of the next year, the Volkswagen Trust funds, in combination with Ameren Missouri rebates, will be utilized to purchase at least 8 EVs and 10 dual-port EV charging stations. And a brand-new fleet of fully-electric buses will be rolled out later this year by the city’s transit agency, Metro Transit.

“About 9 percent of local greenhouse gases comes from vehicles the city owns and operates,” says Amos. “When you look at the transportation sector as a whole, that number jumps to 17 percent. By prioritizing the use and purchase of cleaner vehicles in service to our residents, we’re showing that we want to do our part to build and sustain a healthier St. Louis.”

The executive order builds on top of what is already one of the most comprehensive EV readiness ordinances to date in the Midwest region: Consisting of a trio of Board Bills (162, 163, and 181), the St. Louis ordinances require new construction and major renovations of residential, multifamily, and commercial buildings to be built EV ready—providing accommodations for easy installation of EV charging capacity and offering sufficient EV-ready spaces per building, among other features. “With this legislation,” says Krewson, “the city will make using electric vehicles easier and more attractive.”

In addition to improving accessibility, centering equity is also a key component of the transition to clean transportation. In partnership with Forth and the Climate Challenge, the city launched SiLVERS (St. Louis Vehicle Electrification Rides for Seniors) last year. The program, which is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, will supply EVs and charging stations to local social service agencies to provide free transportation and meal deliveries to seniors in underserved communities.

But this series of transportation policies isn’t all that the city is doing. St. Louis has tackled carbon emissions on multiple fronts, including buildings. “St. Louis has quickly become a clean energy powerhouse,” says Maurice Muia, NRDC’s climate advisor to the city. In 2019, St. Louis passed an ordinance that makes solar readiness the standard for new residential and commercial buildings, a bold achievement as it was the first city in the Midwest to do so. Also in 2019, the city released its first annual energy benchmarking report for municipal and private buildings sized above 50,000 square feet. It immediately followed in 2020 with a Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS)—yet again, the first city in the region to establish one. Based on the benchmarking report that came before it, the BEPS set energy efficiency targets for those same structures and provided resources to help building owners optimize energy usage and realize substantial savings. The combination of the benchmarking and performance standard is an effective one-two punch that demonstrates the powerful tools cities can utilize to maximize energy efficiency and significantly reduce carbon emissions from buildings.

Not least, St. Louis has kept equity in its sights as it conceives and executes its climate action game plan. Looking toward the future of economic recovery, the city designed and held a Solar Workforce Development Pilot, a paid training program developed to address barriers, provide instruction and training to support underserved members of the community. The aim of the city’s Solar Workforce Development program is to prepare participants for jobs in solar array installation, with a focus on giving St. Louis residents equitable access to careers in the renewable energy sector.

“St. Louis has been on a clean energy roll,” says Muia. “Very few cities in America have taken these kinds of steps to address air pollution, climate pollution, and equity. Even fewer have taken this many in such a short period of time.”

With its broad-based approach across multiple sectors, St. Louis has quickly taken the climate lead in the region—and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

About the Authors

Stefan Schaffer

City Strategist, American Cities Climate Challenge

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