California Assembly Bill 579 proclaims that, starting in 2035, all new school buses must be zero-emission.  -  Photo: CALSTART

California Assembly Bill 579 proclaims that, starting in 2035, all new school buses must be zero-emission.

Photo: CALSTART

A recent study published by The Guardian declared that the lower Los Angeles and Bakersfield areas topped the charts as two of the worst cities in the United States in terms of air quality.

South Los Angeles was listed due to having a higher concentration of minorities breathing 50% more air pollutants as compared to adjacent cities like Bel Air, which has roughly 87% white residents.

Living near transportation terminals and highways that emit toxic gas and diesel fumes is another reason for the poor air quality, as is the case in the Bakersfield area.

Impact on Children's Health and Governor Newsom's Initiatives

In addition to commercial vehicle emissions, school-aged children living in and around these areas are exposed to harmful emissions released from traditional school buses and are at risk of developing serious respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis.

Governor Gavin Newsom has made great strides to better the health of all Californians, especially school-aged children, by focusing on the adoption and deployment of electric school buses. Today, California prides itself on utilizing the most zero-emission (ZE) school buses in the country with over 1,689 being used by California school districts; and while the state is on a positive health trajectory thanks to a decree to eliminate gas and diesel vehicles, more work needs to be done to improve children’s well-being.

In October, Newsom completed his latest homework assignment, signing a bill that would change the future of school bus purchasing and travel. Assembly Bill 579 proclaims that, beginning on Jan. 1, 2035, “all newly purchased or contracted school buses of a local educational agency (LEA) be zero emission.”

California's Proactive Approach to Zero-Emission School Buses

Signing the bill demonstrated the state’s commitment to improving public health and the environment. But the bill won’t take effect for years, so what is being done now to safeguard these children’s health?

The answer is that LEAs don’t have to wait for the bill to take effect to begin their transition to ZE school buses. The state, right now, boasts the greatest number of incentive programs in the country to help fund the transition to ZE school buses with supporting charging infrastructure.

Some funding opportunities are available now, like the California HVIP Public School Bus Set-Aside and EnergIIZE Joint Application, funded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and California Energy Commission (CEC), for swapping out old school bus models for modern ZE school buses. Others will open soon, including the EnergIIZE EV Jump Start funding lane funded by the CEC. A list of funding opportunities for clean school buses can be found on CARB’s website.

While essential, charging infrastructure (or the lack thereof) is one of the top challenges school districts face when considering transitioning to zero-emission vehicles; however, California has shown that, with state-level funding opportunities, going green is achievable no matter the school district. If more California school districts took advantage of the funding opportunities accessible to them, worries about children’s health would be a thing of the past. Indeed, if all U.S. states started incentive programs, like California, Nevada, Colorado, and New York have done, school-aged children could grow up learning the benefits of being environmentally friendly stewards.

Jennifer Smith is a communications project manager for medium- and heavy-duty programs at CALSTART. This column was written and edited according to School Bus Fleet editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of SBF.

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