An Open Letter to Secretary Pete on Natural Gas Vehicles

February 16, 2021

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Dear Secretary Pete,

Congratulations on your appointment and confirmation as our new Secretary of Transportation. Please excuse the informality, but I know you once preferred being called “Mayor Pete.” I’ll continue the familiar tenor as you settle in because we all believe you “get” it. We need you — in your new role — to “get” it.

The new Biden administration has the lion’s share of monumental challenges before it, mainly executing effective pandemic response, fostering impactful economic recovery, and addressing the growing challenges of climate change. You have a lot to do, but you personally have the ground level experience to get it done.

“Secretary Pete, you have a lot to do, but you have the ground level experience to get it done.”

I, too, began my public service career in the City Hall of a small Rust Belt city. It’s a place where the rubber meets the road, where all the unfunded mandates and directives from federal and state lawmakers come crashing down on you to somehow meet, finance, and implement, all while keeping property taxes low and vital services flowing.

As Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, you wisely deployed domestic natural gas–fueled municipal vehicles to save money, ensure reliable service delivery, and reduce pollutant emissions. Further, you witnessed firsthand the positive clean air and decarbonization improvements made by the South Bend Transportation Corporation as it began its own fleet transition to clean compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in 2014. Today, more than half of Transpo’s transit fleet runs on zero-emission-equivalent natural gas technology.

“You wisely deployed domestic natural gas-fueled municipal vehicles to save money and reduce pollutant emissions.”

So, I implore you to continue this commonsense approach to transitioning to clean-air, low-carbon fleets as your tenure as U.S. Secretary of Transportation begins. As you battle climate change on the federal front:

Allow for all viable clean technologies.

Combating climate change is not an individual sport; we all contribute in some fashion, and policies must ensure we all can be part of the solution, regardless of what we do or where we live. Since fleet needs are not all the same, differing clean powertrains are required for differing real-world applications.

Build markets, not technology mandates.

Set aggressive emissions reductions targets and allow individual fleets the flexibility to choose the best clean vehicle technology solution for their needs. Flexibility also supports American innovation and manufacturing, ushering in a new era of varied green transportation–related jobs.

“Set aggressive emissions reductions targets and allow fleets to choose clean vehicle solutions that fit their needs.”

Rely on science. Respect the data. Respond now.

Initiate sensible, fact-based, equitable transportation policies that can be implemented efficiently and immediately. Make informed investments based on well-to-wheel environmental impacts, carbon intensity, cost effectiveness, and access to affordable, commercially available, ready-right-now technology to get more heavy-duty clean vehicles on the road quicker.

Impact frontline communities immediately.

Get more clean replacement vehicles on the road right away with cost-effective natural gas vehicles (NGVs) fueled by renewable natural gas (RNG). Today’s NGVs are a one-to-one replacement for diesel in terms of performance, torque, range, and capability with immediate clean air and carbon reduction results. Heavy-duty trucks and buses are responsible for 32% of U.S. on-road transportation greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing one aging diesel truck with one new natural gas-powered truck is the emissions equivalent of removing 119 cars from our roadways.

“Leverage federal transportation investments to reduce carbon now with deployable and scalable RNG-fueled vehicles.”

Make the most of limited public resources.

Leverage federal transportation investments to reduce carbon now with deployable and scalable RNG-fueled vehicles. The climate crisis does not have time to wait for technology to develop or become affordable, and RNG refueling infrastructure is already in place and storm-resilient. Public and private fleets can make these investments right away with proven and domestic renewable natural gas technology.

Climate change is cumulative: the longer we wait, the harder it gets to solve, and no single solution exists that will magically fix everything. A successful green transportation strategy is one that all of America can buy into and from which every American in every South Bend can benefit. Flexibility, commercial availability, and affordability are key.