NRDC-Sierra Club Clean Bus Campaign Applauds Metro Proposal to Buy Natural Gas Buses

Says Funding is Available to Make Proposal a Reality

WASHINGTON (September 7, 2000) - The NRDC-Sierra Club Clean Bus Campaign today hailed a proposal for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) to buy as many as 100 compressed natural gas buses for next year. Metro General Manager Richard White and his staff are expected to present the proposal to the Metro board of directors this morning at a meeting at Metro headquarters. Metro had planned to purchase 100 diesel buses next year and 30 more in 2002.

The Metro board will have 60 days to make a decision on how many compressed natural gas buses to buy. The Clean Bus Campaign, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, the D.C. City Council and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton all urge Metro to buy only compressed natural gas buses from now on.

"Our position is unequivocal: No more diesel buses," said Elliott Negin, an NRDC spokesman. "Our region is among the top 10 worst in the country for ozone pollution, and ending our reliance on this 19th century technology will help remove nitrogen oxides -- a major cause of smog -- from our air." Replacing diesel buses with compressed natural gas buses, he added, also will help cut diesel emissions of particulate matter, which contains more than 40 toxic chemicals and is linked to asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and premature death.

Compressed natural gas buses offer superior emission performance over diesel. They emit virtually no particulate matter or toxic chemicals and as much as 60 percent less nitrogen oxides than diesel buses.

Although heartened by the proposal, the Clean Bus Campaign cautions that the Metro staff still has wiggle room to scuttle it. The campaign expects Richard White and Jack Requa, Metro's bus manager, to maintain that Metro cannot find the funding to pay for the incremental costs of the buses, which amount to $50,000 more per bus, or for retrofitting a fueling station.

"The bottom line is there is federal money available to help transit agencies pay for alternative-fuel buses and fueling facilities," said Mark Wenzler of the Sierra Club's New Columbia Chapter. "The reason Metro has no money for alternative fuel buses is it has never asked for it."

Transit agencies around the country are taking advantage of federal funds for alternative fuel buses. Last year, for example, Atlanta received $13 million for compressed natural gas buses from the federal Bus and Bus Facilities Program. And the current House version of the program earmarks $9 million for compressed natural gas buses for Los Angeles. Metro, on the other hand, has not asked for funding or enlisted the help of public officials to get an earmark.

According to White, Metro has used funds from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program to help finance the purchase of new buses -- diesel buses. "Diesel buses do not improve air quality, they degrade it," said Wenzler. "Metro should use air quality improvement funds to help pay for compressed natural gas buses."

Compressed natural gas buses will pay for themselves over time, said Negin. "Some studies have shown that long-term maintenance and operation costs for compressed natural gas buses are lower than those of diesel buses, and the Department of Energy found that although compressed natural gas buses are 20 percent more than diesel buses, 'the typical compressed natural gas bus could pay for itself in just a little more than three years' because compressed natural gas is cheaper than diesel fuel."

Finally, Metro could contract with an private vendor to build, own and operate a fueling station in exchange for a long-term contract to purchase natural gas from that vendor. Two firms, Trillium USA and Pickens Fuel Corporation, have made general proposals to Metro to privately finance a fueling station in the District of Columbia (for copies of the proposals, contact Elliott Negin at NRDC). Trillium is currently building three compressed natural gas fueling stations for Los Angeles' transit agency.

"Compressed natural gas buses are infinitely cleaner than diesel buses, they're cost-effective, and there is federal money to help pay the extra cost," said Negin. "For anyone who cares about clean air, it's a no-brainer. We just need the political will to make it a reality for the entire metropolitan region."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.