June 06, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Accelerate Electrification of Nation’s School Bus Fleet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday led Senators Merkley (D-OR), Feinstein (D-CA) Booker (D-NJ), Smith (D-MN), Sanders (I-VT), and Cortez Masto (D-NV) in introducing the Clean School Bus Act, legislation to assist school districts around the country in replacing traditional diesel school buses with new, electric buses in order to mitigate students’ and drivers’ exposure to harmful pollutants and help address the climate crisis.

“Our children deserve a healthy environment to learn and grow—at school, at home, and everywhere in between,” said Harris. “We know that students are breathing polluted air on their way to school, and we know that burden falls disproportionately on low-income students and students of color. We must take action to protect them. Electrifying the nation’s school bus fleet will clean the air our students breathe and help fight the climate crisis that threatens their futures.”

“When parents send their kids off on a school bus, they shouldn't have to worry about dangerous diesel pollution. Unfortunately, traditional yellow school buses spew greenhouse gases and dangerous particulate matter into the air and also trap poor air inside their cabins,” said Merkley. “We can do better. Electric school buses will reduce carbon pollution, improve critical health outcomes for kids and drivers, and also help school districts spend less money on gas.”

“Electric school busses are already being used to transport students—like the electric school bus in Lakeville, Minnesota—and cutting down on emissions improves our health and our environment,” said Smith. “This is a good thing, but we know even more schools want to make this kind of investment.  If we’re going to make it more feasible for schools to move to electric vehicles, we need to pass this bill.”

“We have about 11 years left to stop the worst consequences of climate change. The U.S. transportation sector is now our biggest source of carbon pollution, and electric vehicles are already reducing emissions, ensuring clean air for our children and grandchildren and saving American families money on their fuel and maintenance costs – a real win-win for anyone who isn’t a fossil fuel executive,” said Sanders.

Every day, more than 25 million children and thousands of school bus drivers breathe polluted air on their commute to school, which can have a negative impact of student health and attendance, particularly for students with asthma and other respiratory conditions. School buses, which make up roughly 90 percent of the nation’s bus fleet and are the nation’s largest form of mass transit, traveled roughly 3.3 billion miles in 2017. A recent study indicated that reduced exposure to air pollution from school buses can result in student test gains in math and English. Electric buses not only reduce dangerous air pollution for those riding a school bus but also for the local community and cars driving behind a school bus while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, the Clean School Bus Act will:

  • Provide grants of up to $2 million to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

  • Give priority to applications that serve lower-income students, replace the most polluting buses, and leverage the funding to further decrease pollution and emissions, including through partnerships with local utilities.

  • Authorize $1 billion over five years at the Department of Energy to fund a Clean School Bus Grant Program to spur increased adoption of this clean technology.

The Clean School Bus Act is supported by American Lung Association, California Association of School Transportation Officials, Chispa – Clean Buses for Healthy Niños, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Green for All, Hispanic Access Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, National Resources Defense Council, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, South Coast Air Quality Management District, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and EarthJustice.

“We applaud Senator Harris for this commitment to the health and well-being of our country’s children and families -- we desperately need clean, zero-emission transportation options that won’t pollute the air our children breathe,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. “The Clean School Bus Act will help protect all communities from environmental harm, especially the low income families and communities of color who are disproportionately burdened by pollution. We encourage Congress to move quickly to pass this common sense legislation.”

“Our children and our communities have a right to breathe clean air,” said Fernando Cazáres, National Director of Chispa, a community organizing program of LCV. “Research has shown that exposure to toxic diesel emissions results in respiratory illnesses, particularly among school children for whom asthma attacks are a leading cause of absenteeism. The proposed legislation would reduce pollution in low-income communities, most-impacted, and communities of color first. It is exactly the kind of leadership we need from lawmakers at the state and federal levels right now.”

“Our children deserve clean, pollution-free rides to school,” said Luke Tonachel, Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean vehicles director. “By accelerating the deployment of clean, electric school buses, this bill will help build healthy bodies and sharp minds that we will all depend on in the future.”

“Tailpipe emissions are not only a climate issue, they are a major health and safety issue for our children, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color where they are disproportionately exposed,” said Michelle Romero, national director of Green For All. “It’s hard to learn if you can’t breathe. That’s why Green For All is proud to support Senator Harris’s Clean School Bus Act. The legislation would help schools serving low-income neighborhoods make the down payment to transition from dirty diesel buses to zero-emission electric buses, and give kids a clean, safe ride to school.”

"By replacing diesel school buses with cleaner alternatives, we can directly improve the health, educational performance, and well being of our children and communities.” said Maite Arce, President and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. Latinos disproportionately live in areas with poor air quality and the Clean School Bus Act will begin to address this issue by prioritizing areas that do not meet national air quality standards and those that serve a higher proportion of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. This is a clear investment in a cleaner, safer, and more equitable future for all Americans.

“To clean up our air and address climate change, we have to electrify our transportation system as quickly as possible. And given that air pollution has disproportionate health effects on children, there is no better place to kickstart that transition than with school buses. The Clean School Bus Act will help school districts get the resources they need to ensure that every child has healthy air to breathe and a safe ride to school,” said Sam Landenwitsch, U.S. PIRG Transportation Program chair and senior vice president of The Public Interest Network.

“Deploying more electric school buses will help address climate change and clean up other dangerous air pollution. We applaud Senator Harris for her leadership in protecting health – especially children’s health – from vehicle pollution,” said Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO, American Lung Association.

“We support Senator Harris’ efforts to reduce Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx) from diesel emissions which is the number one source of air pollution in our region to protect public health, especially our children,” said Wayne Nastri, Executive Officer for the South Coast AQMD. “A recent Children’s Health Study by the University of Southern California has shown that a 22 percent reduction in NOx pollution from 1993 to 2014, resulted in a 20 percent reduction of asthma rates in children.”

For further background on the bill, click here.

For full bill text, click here.

###