Nearly 150,000 Maine children, as well as over 2,300 school bus drivers, breathe polluted air on traditional diesel yellow school buses every day. Diesel pollution affects the growth of kids’ lungs and worsens asthma symptoms, and has also been linked to poorer academic performance. Roughly 95 percent of school buses in the United States – as well as 60 percent of transit buses – run on diesel fuel.

Strides have been made toward doing something about this diesel pollution, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Diesel Program, which has funded projects to replace or retrofit over 450 diesel school buses, but we should replace buses powered by fossil fuels with the cleanest technology possible for the health of future generations: all-electric. Investing in diesel and natural gas technologies represents a significant missed opportunity to accelerate the transformation to an all-electric, clean-running transportation network that could help reduce illness and save lives.

Keeping diesel buses on the road despite the health impacts of air pollution means that every time a child gets on a school bus, we are putting their health at risk. Our kids shouldn’t have to breathe dirty, dangerous air just to get to school. As the negative health impacts of long-term exposure to diesel exhaust become more clear, the need to move to zero-emission school buses becomes more urgent.

The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2019” report found that while Bangor was ranked one of the cleanest cities in the country for ozone and particulate matter pollution, Hancock County received a failing grade for not meeting ozone protection standards set by the EPA. Ozone attacks the lungs and is especially dangerous for the 225,000 Mainers with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. 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 kick-start that transition than with school buses. For instance, the federal 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.

Climate change is accelerating, and transportation is now the biggest climate polluter in the U.S. and here in Maine, where transportation accounts for 52 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions. The United States could avoid roughly 7.3 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions each year by replacing all of the school buses in the country with electric buses. Switching to all-electric buses will clean the air we breathe and reduce the risks of global warming.

In addition to the public health and environmental benefits, school districts also see cost savings due to the reduced fuel and maintenance costs of electric buses. While electric school buses cost around $120,000 more than diesel school buses, lifetime fuel and maintenance savings of electric school buses are around $170,000. The federal 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. Additionally, if battery prices continue current trends and continue to drop, the unsubsidized price of electric buses could be cheaper than diesel within the next half a decade. School districts will find they get returns on electric bus investment quickly; if all school buses in the nation were converted to electric tomorrow, $2.9 billion in maintenance would be saved every year, plus $3.2 billion in diesel costs.

It is clear that diesel buses are the least environmentally and health-friendly way to transport American children to and from school. It is our responsibility to make a smart investment in our children’s health, and our environment, through the re-imagining of a future with all-electric school buses.

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