The wheels on the bus go round and round, and the electric school bus is coming to your town. Demand for electric school buses is so high that the Biden-Harris administration just announced they are doubling the amount of funding available – to almost $1 billion – for its first school bus rebate program.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently wrapped up its first application period for the Clean School Bus program, in which school districts in every state across the country applied for funding to acquire clean electric school buses and retire polluting diesel ones. This transition can’t come quickly enough. A majority, 95 percent of all school buses in the US, run on diesel. Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a school bus riding their bike knows the smell of the dirty diesel fumes.
A shocking reality is that the air inside the school bus is even worse than the air outside of it, which means millions of schoolchildren, and the bus drivers that take them to school, are breathing in toxic pollution on their daily commute. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen and can lead to or worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma.
The well-funded propane industry tried to seize advantage of this opportunity for cleaner buses and tried to swap polluting diesel fuel for polluting propane fuel . Despite the propane industry's best attempts to keep us tied to fossil fuels, local grassroots advocates pushed back to ensure that this inaugural year of applications showed overwhelmingly strong support for school buses to go fully electric from local agencies.
Sierra Club chapter staff and volunteers joined partners from the Alliance for Electric School Buses to ensure a community-led movement for electric school buses would benefit the highest-need school districts first. We are so grateful to everyone who participated in our outreach campaign to school officials and promoted electric school buses.
In Tennessee, the Southern Alliance for Electric School Buses pushed back on propane industry advances. Student voices from Salt Lake City urged the Granite School District to apply for funding. In the Midwest, advocates focused on ensuring that the public was galvanized to support electric school bus adoption in priority school districts.
The people power was successful – 90 percent of applications were for electric buses, which release no tailpipe emissions and will benefit communities across the country. Decades of environmental injustice has left Black and Brown communities with the burden of pollution from cars, buses and trucks, so prioritizing electric buses in frontline communities is an essential part of this advocacy.
The connections being built among a national network of grassroots advocates fighting for a livable future in their communities will ensure strong momentum that lasts beyond the four years of the Clean School Bus program. This effort to swap diesel school buses for electric ones will continue until kids across the nation have access to a cleaner, healthier commute to school.