Electric school buses have had a huge influx of support and funding in the last year. A new Clean School Bus Program from EPA will distribute up to $5 billion over the next 5 years for electric school buses using funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.
Parents, advocates, and school districts are all excited about getting electric school buses on the road. They can help reduce toxic pollution from dirty diesel buses. They can also help reduce climate-warming carbon pollution. It is clear that electric school buses will reduce exposure to diesel pollution for children in the communities in which they are deployed.
There are close to half a million school buses in the US, and transitioning the entire fleet will take more than the $5 billion in infrastructure funding. But as EPA gets this initial and much-needed round of federal funding out to school districts, it is vitally important that the most disadvantaged communities first get priority funding for electric school buses.
As a member of the Alliance for Electric School Buses, Moms Clean Air Force has helped develop equity recommendations for EPA to consider as they distribute funding. These recommendations would ensure electric school buses go first to the communities that need them the most. The bottom line is that equity should be a guiding principle in the development of the Clean School Bus program. To keep equity at the center, EPA should
- Replace the oldest, most polluting buses first;
- Implement a system in which priority schools are identified to receive more funding than other schools; and
- Include income, race, level of air pollution exposure, and health impact disparities in the definition of priority schools.
Why do we need a tiered system that identifies priority schools?
The short answer is: Traffic pollution is not equitably distributed. A tiered system of funding would make financing electric school buses an option for school districts overburdened by traffic pollution.
In the US, the burden of pollution exposure has not been evenly distributed, creating communities that need investments to correct the impacts of pollution and improve the health of families. Historic policy decisions often led to Black, brown, and low-income communities bearing a large portion of transportation-related pollution. Whether on purpose or not, these harmful policy decisions need to be corrected.
In the US, transportation is the largest sector of greenhouse gas pollution. Getting electric school buses on the road in historically polluted communities will lower the amount of diesel pollution and help improve the health of community members, from students to bus drivers.
Not only that, getting these buses on the road will create economic opportunity through new, green jobs needed to build the related infrastructure. This means jobs such as mechanics trained in electric vehicle repairs, bus drivers trained to drive these new vehicles, and electricians trained to install the charging infrastructure needed to accommodate electric buses.
Without a tiered priority system, many districts would not be able to afford adding electric school buses to their fleet. Although electric school buses save money in fuel costs and repairs over time, they do cost more up front than diesel buses. For many communities, historic pollution exposure has been paired with economic disinvestment—a systematic choice by government leaders not to use tax dollars to maintain or improve communities of color. This legacy means many overburdened school districts have a lower capacity to fund the purchase of electric school buses for their community, therefore making priority funding necessary to ensure an equitable distribution of electric school buses across the country.
Prioritizing the deployment of funding for electric school buses in disadvantaged communities is not only the right thing to do, it’s also required by the Biden administration. By an executive order in 2021, President Biden created the “Justice40” initiative, mandating federally funded programs to ensure that at least 40% of the benefits from federal investments go to disadvantaged communities—those same communities that have been overburdened by pollution and racial and economic injustices.
Moms Clean Air Force is dedicated to making sure that the Justice40 principles are at the center of EPA’s distribution of funding for electric school buses. Electric school buses have the potential to help correct historic environmental injustices, lower pollution in the most overburdened communities, and ensure low-income school districts have an opportunity to participate in the transition away from fossil fuels. Let’s get rolling toward a just, zero-emitting school bus fleet in every school district!