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electric school buses

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as she tours the Thomas Built Buses factory in High Point, North Carolina—which manufactures electric school buses—on April 19, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Electric School Bus Proponents Decry Infrastructure Bill's Shortcomings

"The $2.5 billion proposed falls far short of the $20 billion the White House originally proposed, and will not accelerate the overdue transition to clean rides for kids."

Brett Wilkins

Responding to the U.S. Senate's passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, electric school bus proponents promptly criticized the measure for not adequately funding zero-emission student transportation while giving billions of dollars to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

"No amount of tailpipe pollution is safe for children to breathe and new fossil fuel buses will aggravate the climate crisis across the next two decades."
—Alliance for Electric School Buses

While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (pdf)—which was approved Tuesday by a Senate vote of 69-30—provides $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, half of that money may be used to buy vehicles that run on fossil fuels, Bloomberg reports.

Meanwhile, the bill allocates over $10 billion for carbon capture, transport, and storage, as well as $8 billion for hydrogen fuel, without requiring that the energy used to produce it is derived from clean sources.

The Alliance for Electric School Buses—which includes the groups Chispa, Clean Energy Works, Earthjustice, Environmental Law and Policy Center, the League of Conservation Voters, Moms Clean Air Force, Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice—issued a statement decrying what it called the bill's clean energy shortcomings.

"As national, regional, and local advocates representing parents, students, and communities most harmed by air pollution, we are extremely disappointed that this package fails to include sufficient funding for electric school buses, while also adding unnecessary and harmful funding for diesel, 'natural' gas, and propane school buses," the coalition said.

"No amount of tailpipe pollution is safe for children to breathe and new fossil fuel buses will aggravate the climate crisis across the next two decades," the statement added. "We also remain concerned that this legislation fails to include strong labor standards that would help create good jobs in our communities."

The coalition's statement continued:

The $2.5 billion proposed falls far short of the $20 billion the White House originally proposed, and will not accelerate the overdue transition to clean rides for kids. We call on Congress and the White House to redouble their commitment to our children's health by adding significant funding for electric school buses in the reconciliation package. We will continue to organize our communities, municipalities, and states until we secure adequate federal support to deliver clean air for the kids who need it most.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center also criticized the bipartisan infrastructure bill, tweeting that "the package fails to include sufficient funding for electric school buses, while adding unnecessary and harmful funding for dirty diesel school buses."

Nevada state Assemblymember Selena Torres (D-3) wrote in a Las Vegas Sun opinion piece Sunday that "while we are still fighting to protect children and teachers from Covid-19, we should pay attention to another respiratory-threatening factor: Diesel-powered school buses."

"Buses, powered by diesel, spew pollution into our neighborhoods that has health implications for everyone," said Torres. "The most harmful exposure is for students inside the buses. Pollution inside these kinds of emitting vehicles could be as much as 10 times ambient levels. Diesel exhaust contains small particles and toxic air pollutants, and long-term exposure is associated with chronic effects on our children's lungs."

"This doesn't have to be the case," Torres continued. "Electric school buses produce no tailpipe emissions and can better serve students without producing harmful pollution. According to a report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, switching from diesel to electric school buses could prevent about 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year."

Earlier this year, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center released a roadmap to transition the nation's school buses. The World Resources Institute noted last week that "there is still a long way to go. As of August 2021, fewer than 1% of school buses are electric. Just 1,164 electric school buses have been committed—meaning announced, procured, delivered, or in operation."

Torres called electric school buses a "win-win" situation that will help in "reducing air pollution, fighting climate change, [and] creating new jobs."

"As students plan to return to in-person classes this fall, my fellow educators and I will be laser-focused on the health and safety of our kids, and Congress should do the same," Torres wrote. "Let's urge Congress to act now to prioritize students' health and direct federal investments to jumpstart the transition to electric school buses."

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