By Jen Kinney.
The same week President Donald Trump signed an executive order designed to roll back Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, climate activists in two cities on opposite sides of the United States were pressuring their transit agencies to think about how today’s investments will impact the adoption of renewable energy sources in the future.
Five days before Trump’s order, activists packed board hearings in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In the former, a coalition of climate and labor groups demanded that LA Metro completely electrify its bus system. In the latter, 350 Philadelphia, a group that focuses on climate justice, and residents of the Nicetown and Tioga neighborhoods made a last-ditch effort to get the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to drop plans for a new natural gas plant.
In Los Angeles, the message was well received. Less so in Philadelphia, where, despite activists’ protest songs, SEPTA’s board voted unanimously to go forward with a new combined heat and power facility in Nicetown. The natural gas plant would power half of the regional rail system and provide baseline power in the event of an outage at PECO, the region’s largest electric and gas utility. SEPTA estimates it would reduce the agency’s overall carbon footprint by 15 percent by decreasing reliance on coal-generated electricity, and increase the system’s climate resilience.
But 350 Philadelphia argues that such an investment will only delay SEPTA’s adoption of renewables in the future.
“It’s not the response we hoped for, but the one we expected,” says Mitch Chanin, of 350 Philadelphia. “We don’t accept the premise that burning natural gas, because it emits less carbon than coal, is a climate solution. [The new Nicetown plant] is taking them in the wrong direction in terms of climate impact.”