Alongside tobacco, firearms and the fight over Palestine, add natural gas to the list of topics too taboo for the side of a King County Metro Transit bus.
The nation’s ninth-busiest public bus agency says it made an error in accepting $91,000 for 80 advertisements by the Partnership for Energy Progress Northwest, a coalition of gas companies, labor unions, farming and pro-business groups. The messages show a family cooking with gas, on a light-blue background next to the words “Reliable. Affordable. Natural Gas. Here For You.”
This week the Sierra Club and four other environmental groups called upon County Executive Dow Constantine and Metropolitan King County Council members to cease advertising fossil fuels. Elected leaders have directed Metro to phase out its diesel-hybrid buses to provide an all-electric fleet in the 2030s.
“I don’t think we should be promoting fossil fuels on buses when we’re trying to get rid of them on the other hand. It’s hypocritical,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, a SeaTac resident who chairs the Regional Transit Committee, in an interview this week.
The pro-gas partnership, which includes Bellevue-based Puget Sound Energy, launched its regional public-relations campaign last year to rally citizen sentiment, with a goal “to prevent or defeat” anti-gas political proposals, The Seattle Times reported last year.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan last week proposed that natural gas heaters be forbidden in future commercial and apartment buildings. Bellingham has discussed an outright ban on gas heat that would require homeowners to convert to electric sources.
The pro-gas coalition says it will keep spreading its views by several means, including its website.
“Nearly 70% of people say they prefer cooking and heating their homes with natural gas,” said a statement by coalition president Leanne Guier, member of UA Local 32 Plumbers & Pipefitters.
“It’s surprising Metro would muffle our voices since they have been a great partner in efficiency,” she said.
The coalition says it endorses solar and wind energy, as well as research to capture methane from farm-animal waste, to reuse as natural gas.
King County remains far from its goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030. Seattle’s latest inventory found motor-vehicle CO2 emissions down slightly from 2016-18 but greater emissions from buildings canceled that progress.
“The county is not living up to its values of believing in climate science in letting the industry support fracked gas as part of a ‘clean energy future,'” said Caleb Heeringa, spokesperson for the local Sierra Club, which co-signed the letter alongside Physicians for Social Responsibility, 350 Seattle, Stand.earth and Climate Solutions.
Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer said that “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.” The 80 ads were installed July 20, expired in November, and are being removed. Switzer said the ad contractor, Intersection, received $25,920 and Metro received $65,600.
A spokesperson for Intersection said by e-mail: “The ad was posted in error. We’ve discussed this issue with KCM [Metro] and have made assurances it will not happen again.”
Metro policy forbids political campaign ads, along with “public issue speech” ads that express views “on a matter of public debate about economic, political, public safety, religious or social issues.” Those limits evolved from a controversy a decade ago, when competing ads about the Israel-Palestinian conflict caused Metro to fear local violence. Ads for tobacco and firearms are also banned.
“For good reason, they don’t let cigarette ads on buses, because of the public health threat. Greenhouse gases are also a threat to public safety and health,” Heeringa said.
Nonetheless, about two-thirds of existing homes have gas, while two-thirds of new homes are using other sources.
Puget Sound Energy relies on gas and coal to produce 56% of its energy, but will abandon coal by 2025 as required by state law. Pierce Transit fuels buses with natural gas, which pollutes less than petroleum.
Over the decades, Metro buses have advertised many products that exert a climate footprint, such as automobiles, airplane travel and meat.
Upthegrove, who is vegetarian, acknowledged there are many “gray areas” to consider. So while calling for new standards, he didn’t propose specifics yet about what those should be.