Should fossil fuel ads go the way of the dino on county buses?

King County ran ads for a natural gas coalition on its buses this year.

A King County Metro bus with an ad from the natural gas organization Partnership for Energy Progress. Contributed photo

A King County Metro bus with an ad from the natural gas organization Partnership for Energy Progress. Contributed photo

Promoting fossil fuels on buses could be nixed after a natural gas group placed ads King County Metro buses this year.

The ads were paid for by Partnership for Energy Progress, a natural gas coalition that includes major Washington utilities, unions and businesses. In total, the 80 bus ads were installed on July 20 — and are being removed now, after the contract expired in November, said Jeff Switzer with King County Metro.

The total contract was $91,500, and Metro received $65,600 from the ads.

“On review, this ad shouldn’t have been run under our advertising policy, and was a failure of the screening process of our advertising contractor, Intersection,” Switzer said in an email.

In response to the ads, a number of environmental organizations sent a letter of protest to the county, asking the county to prohibit fossil fuel companies from running ads on its buses. Ads from other industries, like the tobacco industry, are already banned, said Caleb Heeringa, senior press secretary for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative.

“In a similar way the fossil fuel industry needs to be (banned),” Heeringa said. “The continued growth of the fossil fuel industry is not conducive to the health and safety of the public.”

King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove responded to the letter, saying he would look into it.

Natural gas is often touted by fossil fuel companies and power utilities as a cleaner gas, or as a “bridge” fuel that can help ease the transition from coal to green energy. But natural gas is often extracted through a process known as fracking. Fracking entails drilling deep into the ground and injecting water, sand or chemicals at high pressure into it to crack open rocks and release natural gas.

In a statement, Partnership for Energy Progress said they are working “to communicate the work we do to provide clean, reliable, affordable and renewable energy to homes and businesses in the Northwest for years to come.”

The statement went on to say natural gas could be used to reduce emissions while supporting expansion of renewables like wind and solar.

But some of this gas leaks out into the atmosphere, and its largest component, the greenhouse gas methane, is far better at trapping heat than its more notorious cousin carbon dioxide (CO2).

Methane is roughly 90 times better at trapping heat than CO2. And while it only lasts about nine years, compared to the hundreds of years that CO2 sticks around in the atmosphere, it makes up for its short duration in intensity.

A study cited in National Geographic found that in producing natural gas, up to 2% of it can leak into the atmosphere, making it end-to-end nearly as dirty as coal. Natural gas has become easier to collect in recent years, and now provides about 40% of the electricity demand in the U.S.

The Partnership ads also come as both King County and Washington state are trying to clean up their emissions. The county in its 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan has set a goal for government operations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of this year, 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030. The county also has a goal of moving to an emissions-free bus fleet by 2040.

Similarly, the state passed a clean energy bill in 2019, mandating that utilities provide entirely carbon-free energy by 2045.

Heeringa said as the county has been a leader in reducing emissions, it shouldn’t allow fossil fuel ads on buses.

“When you look at the full climate impact of gas use, it’s really not much of an improvement on burning coal,” he said.


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