Environmental & Community Advocates Discuss The Need for Electric School Buses

New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund
(212) 361-6350, Ext. 206

For Immediate Release: September 24, 2018
Contact: Shachar Sharon, ssharon@nylcv.org

New School Year, Same Dirty Buses
Environmental & Community Advocates Discuss The Need for Electric School Buses

Brooklyn, N.Y. – New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF) President Marcia Bystryn, Peggy Shepard of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Matt Casale of US PIRG, Adam Armstrong of Resilient Red Hook, Tevin C.S. Grant of the Electric School Bus Campaign, Zachary Lerner of ALIGN, and Kevin Cromar of NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management gathered today at Brooklyn Borough Hall for a forum on diesel pollution and the need for better school buses. The forum was part of the NYLCVEF Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign for electric school buses in environmental justice communities.

The panelists discussed the adverse health impacts of diesel school buses and explained the need for zero-emissions electric school buses. They also unveiled a new report which demonstrates the public health impact of greenhouse gases emitted by diesel school buses, identifies inequities in exposure to these fumes, and the benefits of electrifying New York’s school bus fleet. The report also discusses pathways forward including funding opportunities from the Volkswagen settlement, partnerships with utilities to offset upfront costs, existing federal and state programs, and worker-owned cooperatives.

Bystryn said, “We started a new school year this month but children are still riding on the same dirty buses. As our new report shows, diesel school buses are detrimental to our children’s health and to our environment.  No one should have to breathe in dangerous pollutants while riding the bus, especially when cleaner alternatives, such as electric school buses, are available. That’s why we gathered today for this forum and why we compiled this report. Getting more electric school buses on the road is a feasible and healthy solution.  Thank you to all our panelists for their partnership.”

The panelists and report demonstrate the problems associated with diesel school buses, the largest form of mass transit in the United States.  Diesel exhaust is made up primarily of nitrogen oxides, as well as carbon oxides and particulate matter. The report found that New York City school buses emit an average of 113,850 tons of greenhouse gases per year, or 1.8 million tons over a typical bus’ lifetime of 16 years.  Numerous studies have linked diesel exhaust and its byproducts to respiratory disease, cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, and higher mortality rates.

Almost 200,000 children suffer from asthma in New York – a major portion of which come from low-income communities.  Asthma is a leading cause of school absences and children with severe asthma can miss up to 30 days of school in NYC.   Missing school due to asthma-related illness can have negative academic consequences for students and economic impacts on parents who need to purchase medications and miss work to bring their children to the hospital. According to a report by the NYS Comptroller, asthma-related hospital visits cost taxpayers $1.3 billion a year.

Poor air quality impacts low-income communities and communities of color at drastically higher rates.  There are higher rates of hospitalization for respiratory disease among communities near large pollution sources like power plants, airports, and major highways. Asthma emergency department visits for 2006-2010 was five times higher for children living in New York City compared to those living in the rest of the state. In some environmental justice communities, 1 in 4 children suffers from asthma, compared to 1 in 10 statewide.  

Transitioning to electric school buses would improve air quality, bolster the fight against climate change, and protect children’s health.  If we were to replace all diesel school buses with all-electric models, the U.S. would eliminate an average of 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in a single year.  Focusing on environmental justice communities would bring academic, health, and economic benefits to underserved neighborhoods that have traditionally been overlooked.

The panelists and report also discussed opportunities to transition to an electric school bus fleet. Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation recently announced their plan to invest the state’s $127 million Volkswagen settlement in clean transportation, including earmarking 40% for buses. The plan includes replacing older diesel-powered vehicles with alternative fuel, electric, or new diesel vehicles, as well as funding for electric vehicle supply equipment and electrification infrastructure. DEC estimates that implementing the plan will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 130,000 tons and nitrogen oxides emissions by 4,500 tons, equivalent to removing 65,000 cars from our roads per year over an estimated 10-year useful lifetime.

Additional state and local programs that can help transition from diesel to electric school buses include NYC Alternative Fuel Vehicle-Voucher Incentive Fund and the Zero Emission Vehicle and Fueling Infrastructure Rebates for Municipalities Program. A cooperatively owned and operated electric school bus company could also be a solution.

Borough President Adams said, “I thank NYLCV for coming to Brooklyn Borough Hall for a meaningful dialogue on cleaner, greener school buses, an issue that is been one of deep interest to my Renewable and Sustainable Energy Taskforce (ReSET). We need to advance safer communities to raise healthy children and families, and combating the impact of asthma and other chronic conditions impacted by poor air quality is chief to that mission. Electrifying our school bus fleet is an important step to take in Brooklyn and beyond.”

Casale said, “Electric school buses are here and they are ready for the road. School districts across the country, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts, are running electric school buses. Making the switch in New York would lead to significant climate benefits from the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and would support healthier and more resilient neighborhoods, particularly in the most vulnerable communities.”

Shepard said, “WE ACT was instrumental in getting the Metropolitan Transit Authority to switch to alternative fuel vehicles and invest in pollution control retrofits for its entire bus fleet, reducing tailpipe emissions by 95 percent citywide. But the threat from school bus emissions is even greater because the poisonous diesel exhaust actually comes inside of those buses, where the children sit. The challenge is that we are dealing with a number of small businesses who have failed to take advantage of past incentive programs, so we will need to develop the political will and parent power necessary to create a mandate that makes conversions and retrofits part of the contract renewal process. That’s one way we can move alternative fuel school buses to the head of the class.”

Grant said, “This event attended by so many partners shows that the issue of safe, clean pupil transportation is rising. Now is the time when our words can turn in to meaningful action.  We look forward to helping to facilitate the transition of school buses from 95% diesel powered to zero-emission vehicles and advocating for better pupil transportation providers for the children of New York.”

Armstrong said, “In response to the environmental and health burden that diesel emissions place on our community, we are advocating for electric maritime and land-based transportation. Transitioning to electric school buses would be an important step towards removing dangerous particulate matter and greenhouse gasses from school buses, hundreds of which park in Red Hook. It would help erase one significant source of pollution negatively impacting the health of our community, our kids, and our planet.”

The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund engages and educates New Yorkers on environmental issues and the environmental decision-making processes at the local, regional, state and federal government levels. NYLCVEF fosters open, nonpartisan discussion on environmental policy and empowers New Yorkers to be effective advocates on behalf of the environment. Visit www.nylcvef.org for more information.