The Biden Administration’s push for more sustainable public transportation is up and running after Vice President Kamala Harris’ announcement that federal funds are slated to purchase electric school buses.
There are currently 560,000 school buses in the U.S. that travel over six billion miles per year, making them the most extensive public transportation network in the country. But 95% of school buses still run on diesel fuel.
Diesel exhaust is a known pollutant that contributes to a number of health concerns, especially in children. It’s been estimated that children who ride older diesel school buses with no pollution control are at a 4% higher risk of developing cancer over the course of their lives.
Diesel fuel can also trigger allergic responses, cause new-onset allergies, and exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions. Children are especially susceptible to respiratory problems from diesel exhaust because their lungs are still developing.
“We expect to see a significant drop in cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in kids and bus drivers and teachers who load our precious cargo before and after school,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told Fatherly. “These electric school buses could eliminate that anxiety of having an asthma attack on the way to school or some sort of respiratory distress.”
The federal government will allot $7 million in funding for electric school buses for communities at highest risk, $17 million in rebates to replace diesel school buses, and $5 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the Clean School Bus Program over the next five years.
“The great thing about $5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law is that these resources will be targeted to those who need it the most,” Regan said. “We’re excited that many of the resources in this law are really targeted to low-income, rural, tribal, and Black and brown communities.”
Once the program, which also includes electrification of city buses and other public transportation and regulated emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, is in full swing, the White House estimates it will result in 2,000 fewer deaths per year, the elimination of at least 18,000 cases of childhood asthma, and 1.1 million fewer missed days of school per year.
“Children will be feeling better while they’re in school when they’re not exposed to diesel fumes,” Regan said. “They’ll be feeling much more alert, healthier, able to focus on the lesson and not the tightness in their chest or inability to breathe as well as they would like. So it increases focus and productivity and makes for better, more well-rounded students throughout the school day.”
The program will also have significant environmental impacts. The black carbon particles found in diesel exhaust are 3,200 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide in the short term. Diesel exhaust also contributes to ozone found at ground level, which is detrimental to crops and other plant life. It also produces acid rain, which is devastating to groundwater and soil and can enter the human food chain through contaminated water, meat, crops, and fish.
There will be “a great impact on public health, human health, overall air quality and visibility of national parks, and, equally as important, reducing impacts of climate change, which is the biggest, most challenging issue our generation is facing,” Regain said.
“When we think about electric school buses, we’re thinking about our most precious cargo, which is our children. It’s exciting to see school districts leaning into electrifying the yellow school bus fleet for the health of our children and to reduce climate change impacts. I, as a father, am extremely excited to see all these actions.”