Yeah, we need more efficient cars; let’s consider the most efficient—those with zero emissions

The Clean Cars hearing

Climate & public health activists came together with Philadelphia City officials on June 27th for a citizens hearing on the proposed rollback of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) Standards and the importance of more efficient cars in the city. The intent of the hearing was to send our testimony to the EPA.

photo courtesy Penn Environment

Organized by Penn Environment, Mom’s Clean Air Force, and the office of Philadelphia City Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, the hearing included testimony from a range of experts, government figures, and Philly residents.

Flora Cardoni of Penn Environment & Mollie Michel of Mom’s Clean Air Force offered testimony, along with staff members from US Congressman Dwight Evans and PA State Senator Sharif Street, Dr Walter Tsou of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Philadelphians Betsy Teutsch, Karen Melton, Meenal Raval, Gale Mershon, and more. Councilmembers Blondell Reynolds Brown and Derek Green attended the hearing. Members of PA-IPL (Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light) shared a statement from a national interfaith organization, “People of Faith Support Clean Car Standards”:, explaining their opposition to the EPA’s reversal of existing CAFE Standards.

Meenal Raval from 350 Philly offered a testimony that affirmed the importance of maintaining the CAFE standards at the federal level and also urged our local government to begin the transition to cleaner cars in Philadelphia.

“Hi. My name is Meenal Raval.

For the past many years, thanks to the fuel efficiency standards set by CARB (the California Air Resources Board), new cars in America have been gradually emitting less greenhouse gases & toxic air pollution. The 2025 goals finalized in 2012 by the Obama administration, agreed upon after a lengthy public comment period, and now adopted by CARB states (including PA) are being challenged by our current administration in DC.

These standards have mandated a gradual improvement in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles, which should result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollution. This is very important, but not enough.

With transportation accounting for about 20% of Philadelphia’s greenhouse gas emissions, our urban air quality worsening, and concerns about sea level rise flooding most of Philadelphia south of Oregon Avenue, what’s needed is a rapid transition to zero emissions transportation.

So YES, we’re here today to ask our current administration to uphold the current fuel efficiency standards.

BUT, we know that even if these standards remain in effect, they wouldn’t be enough to protect a livable climate or the health of Philadelphians.

We need to move rapidly to phase out our use of polluting fossil fuels. We need to make concerted efforts locally, to encourage zero emissions transportation.

So how do we get around without any emissions? Well, walking and cycling have no emissions, nor do horse buggies! But for most of us, zero emissions transportation translates to electric vehicles, also knowns as EVs.

Electric cars produce about 60% less emissions than cars powered by gasoline or diesel. Mind you, this is if the electricity used to power them comes from our current grid mix of coal, gas & nuclear. If, instead, we generate the electricity for these vehicles from renewable sources like wind, water or sun, then our electric vehicles become truly zero emission vehicles.

We must lead by example. Across the country, city governments have begun deploying zero-emission electric vehicles. Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and New York come to mind.

I drive an EV. Who else here….? Great!

Image: CleanTechnica

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Fleet Management manages over 6,000 vehicles for 43 city departments. These 6,000 vehicles are maintained at 16 facilities and re-fueled at 64 fuel sites.

What type of vehicles? Riding mowers & motorcycles. Sedans, vans, jeeps & buses. Police cruisers, ambulances & fire trucks. And the specialized trash & recycling trucks, highway paving equipment, snow removal vehicles & airport runway equipment.

Which departments? The police department, the fire department, the streets and sanitation department, the School District of Phila has 400 school buses, and over 400 other vehicles, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, L&I department, and more.

So I’m asking…Could City Council take the lead? And define an EV First policy, which would require that…

  1. When it’s time to replace any of the 6,000+ vehicles managed by the Office of Fleet Management, the City plans to purchase battery electric vehicles. This policy was recommended in the EV Policy Task Force Report commissioned by OTIS (the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems); see page 25, recommendation 32: “Encourage EV fleet adoption”).
  2. To make it easier to recharge these vehicles, electric car charging stations will need to be installed at each of the current 64 refueling sites.
  3. The money saved from reduced fuel usage will be invested into rooftop solar at each of these sites, turning these vehicles with 65% less emission into 100% less emissions; i.e. zero-emission vehicles.

By the end of this year, I expect my electric car to be charged with homegrown solar. I’m doing my share towards cleaning up our air and reducing our emissions. We need our City to do their share.”

This testimony was well received by Councilmember Reynolds Brown.

Other Cities

We’ve read about other cities planning atransition to zero emission vehicles for their municipal fleets, such as:

Pittsburgh – Their Climate Action Plan 3.0 commits the city government to operate a 100% fossil fuel free vehicle fleet, powered by renewable energy, by 2030. Wow! The Plan also includes some other important provisions related to transportation. They aim to:

  • Reduce vehicle miles traveled by Improving and maintaining pedestrian and bike infrastructure, implementing bus rapid transit systems, prioritizing key corridors for transit, and promoting transit oriented development
  • Electrify vehicles of all kind kinds (Fossil fuel free municipal fleet, Bus electrification, Zero carbon charging infrastructure, Shuttle electrification, Installation of residential charging infrastructure)

More than any one policy, though, we liked that all the relevant city agencies and other local institutions seem to be looped into making this happen.

See also this article from April 2018: Pittsburgh powers up small electric vehicle fleet with solar charging stations,. Pittsburgh is driving on sunshine and has the song lyrics to prove it.

image credit: https://triblive.com/local/allegheny/13551073-74/pittsburgh-powers-up-small-electric-vehicle-fleet-with-solar-charging-stations

And this June 2017 article: Pittsburgh Vehicle Fleet Gets Grant For Solar Power | Pittsburgh aims to “have a fossil-free vehicle fleet by 2030”, and is getting started with the grant program referenced in this article. We love the quote: “We want to be driving on sunshine. We don’t want to be just driving on electricity that’s made from the existing coal and nuclear mix.”

Dallas – See this July 2018 article (DART’s fleet of electric buses roll out in downtown Dallas), which highlights a key point about EVs: Reduced fuel costs and reduced maintenance costs. The City may actually save money.  “The buses, built by the company Proterra, are more expensive upfront than other buses in DART’s fleet. Each electric bus costs $971,000, compared with $480,000 for a bus that runs on compressed natural gas. But over the lifespan of each electric bus — about 12 years — DART can expect to save between $300,000 and $400,000 on fuel.”

Minneapolis – Last October, Minneapolis considers move toward electric vehicles for city fleet. See also their Green Fleet policy here.

An EV first policy for Philadelphia?

Almost 2 years ago, Mayor Kenney signaled ongoing commitment to modernizing city government with plug-in hybrid vehicles for the police department. See this October 2016 article: Philadelphia police to hit the streets in plug-in hybrid vehicles, which mentions Ford Fusion Energi offering 22 miles per charge, and the equivalent of 97 mpg, and includes charging stations at each police district. Though a good step, it’s much too small.

Just yesterday, the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability published their final Citywide Clean Energy Vision, which hinted at a “Clean Fleet” strategy.

So, we’re asking Councilmember Reynolds Brown and PHL Council’s Committee on the Environment to become our champions to define an EV First policy for our City, one of many policies to realize Mayor Kenney’s June 2017 pledge to power Philadelphia with all renewable energy.

Let’s aim for zero emissions transportation, beginning with the City’s own fleet. If you, or your organization agrees with this policy ask, please contact us. Our strength is in our numbers.

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