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It’s Time to Electrify Transit Across the Metro

This past month, the Metropolitan Council proposed spending $121 million to replace and expand 143 Metro Transit buses between 2021 through 2024. Zero of these potential buses included electric buses, with the Met Council opting for biodiesel buses instead. Organized by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Move Minnesota signed onto a joint letter that expressed environmental concerns about this proposed fleet of biodiesel buses, and urged state legislators to speak out against spending public dollars to create more unwanted climate pollution and air pollution.

The letter outlines why biodiesel will actually set Minnesota back, not toward, the state’s plan to introduce more sustainable transportation. In 2018 Metropolitan Council made a commitment to introduce more electric buses to the fleet and end the purchasing of diesel buses by 2022. That commitment was a step in the right direction, and nobody expected that to happen overnight. However, purchasing this many more biodiesel buses in 2021 goes against the intent of the Metropolitan Council’s electric bus commitment—these polluting buses will be on our roads for years and years to come. This purchase is effectively an investment in fossil fuels and unethical agricultural practices at the expense of a cleaner future and cleaner air for transit riders and communities that live along these transit corridors.

Simply put, biodiesel is the wrong choice for communities of color, public health, and the climate. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not only does diesel fuel contribute to global warming, but exposure to diesel fuel can also lead to respiratory health issues such as asthma and other breathing related illnesses, which disproportionately affects communities of color that live along these transit corridors. Furthermore, when it comes to actually growing the crops needed for biofuels, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that 72% of the nitrogen polluting Minnesota’s surface water originates from row crop agriculture additives that both ethanol and soy-based diesel use. For a deep dive into all these direct and indirect impacts of biodiesel read the letter here.

Even with public concerns from community members and organizations, the proposal was approved on an 11-to-4 split vote by the Metropolitan Council. In a recent Star Tribune article Metro Transit’s General Manager Wes Kooistra stated that the biodiesel bus purchase “does not in any way represent a backing away from the commitment we have for the electric bus pilot program.” While we understand that electric buses currently do not work for every trip, we do believe a more concerted effort to phase in these vehicles is critical. Move Minnesota and community partners will continue to advocate for statewide funding and infrastructure improvements that would support more electric buses on our streets. We are hopeful that our push for transit investments at the state level will allow Metro Transit to transition forward with more electric buses and see Metropolitan Council follow through on their commitment to end the purchase of diesel buses by next year.