April 21, 2021

Cárdenas, Hayes, Padilla, Warnock Introduce Clean Commute for Kids Act

Legislation would invest $25 billion to transition diesel school buses to zero-emission vehicles

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressmembers Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Jahana Hayes (CT-05) and U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) introduced the Clean Commute for Kids Act, a bill that would transition much of the nation’s school bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles and protect children’s health. The bicameral legislation would invest $25 billion to replace existing diesel buses with electric buses and would target grants to school districts serving communities with unhealthy air pollution and lower incomes.

On a typical day before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 25 million children were exposed to air pollution when they rode over 500,000 predominantly diesel buses to school in the U.S. each day. Nearly 95 percent of America’s school buses run on diesel, a fossil fuel that has been shown to cause numerous health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and cancer. This bill seeks to address these issues. Transitioning to cleaner buses would prevent the release of 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year and protect our kids’ lungs by keeping diesel fumes out of the air inside and outside of the buses.

“Communities across America – especially communities of color – are facing some of the worst health and respiratory problems from breathing polluted air,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “We cannot wait another minute to clean up the air we breathe for our children, our families and our neighborhoods. That’s why I’m proud to partner with Representative Hayes, Senator Padilla and Senator Warnock on the Clean Commute for Kids Act, a commonsense bill to replace old diesel buses with new, cleaner, and zero-emission electric school buses. Now, during the COVID-19 crisis, we have an even greater responsibility to improve the health of all Americans by removing pollutants from our environment, making critical investments in clean energy technology, generating good-paying American jobs, equipping our nation with 21st century infrastructure, and setting ourselves on a path to a strong recovery in the years to come.”

Transitioning our national school bus fleet from diesel to zero-emissions must be a first step to addressing climate change and its effects on public health,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “School buses are the nation’s largest form of mass transportation and the sector emitting the highest level of greenhouse gases in our country. Bringing our school bus fleet into the 21st century, while ensuring all school districts have equitable access to new buses, will take bold investment and sustained commitment. The Clean Commute for Kids Act will provide $25 billion over the next ten years to tackle this crucial endeavor, prioritizing communities most underserved and affected by air pollution. Not only will the proposal launch our nation forward as a climate leader, but it will protect our most vulnerable children from the ramifications of pollution-related diseases like asthma. I am proud of this proposal developed with my colleagues and look forward to working with the Biden Administration to pursue clean school bus investment.”

“Providing a quality education for children starts before they even arrive at school,” Senator Padilla said. “I know firsthand how outdated diesel school buses expose our young people to harmful pollution. Children in working-class communities — like the one I grew up in — face higher rates of asthma and respiratory issues, which have a direct impact on their ability to learn. That’s why I’m proud to introduce legislation that will accelerate the deployment of cleaner school buses. Transitioning our school bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles is an essential aspect of building equitable, sustainable infrastructure and is a wise investment in our children, our environment, and our future.”

“Children in Georgia and across America should be able to get to and from school each day without breathing polluted air, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated challenges for children already managing respiratory problems,” said Senator Warnock. “Innovators like Georgia’s own Blue Bird Corporation are already leading the way to replace older diesel buses with cleaner, zero-emission electric school buses, and strengthening federal funding to make our infrastructure more sustainable is an investment in the health of our country, our planet and our economy. The Clean Commute for Kids Act will help keep our students safe, create good-paying jobs and modernize our country’s vital transportation infrastructure.”

The Clean Commute for Kids Act authorizes $25 billion over the next 10 years for the EPA, with assistance from the Department of Energy, to provide grants to replace existing buses with clean, zero-emission buses:

  • 40 percent of this funding would go toward replacing school buses serving environmental justice communities.
  • Funding awarded to school districts may cover up to 100 percent of the replacement costs of zero-emission buses, including acquisition and labor costs for charging infrastructure, workforce development and training, and planning and technical activity costs.
  • This bill also directs the EPA to develop an outreach program to assist school districts in transitioning school bus fleets.

In California, school districts are beginning to make the switch to electric buses.  The California Air Resources Board has leveraged federal funding to assist school districts and local air boards with the costs of school bus replacements. This bill will accelerate the transition and provide funding to reach more schools.  

Groups in support of this legislation include the American Federation of Teachers, CALSTART,  the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), EarthJustice, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, GreenLatinos, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Chispa, Mom’s Clean Air Force, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Public schools are huge consumers of mass transit, and the challenge of getting students to school buildings in a more green, efficient way is one we must tackle immediately,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “By investing in zero-emission school buses we can create cleaner, healthier, more sustainable school communities where our children don’t just survive but actually thrive. This bill takes measurable, sustainable action to do just that, by assisting districts in a transition to domestically manufactured zero-emission school buses while protecting and creating jobs, maintaining workers’ rights, and ensuring high road labor standards in their manufacture, operation, and maintenance. It’s an important step toward making our school communities more sustainable overall.”

“Our children, especially those that are most underserved, deserve to know their air, health, and climate are going to be protected,” said Athena Motavvef, Associate Legislative Representative for EarthJustice. “The Clean Commute for Kids Act puts us on a path to a cleaner future, by prioritizing zero-emission vehicles on the road. We thank Senator Alex Padilla and Representatives Tony Cárdenas and Jahana Hayes for their leadership on this important issue.”

“Moms Clean Air Force applauds Senator Padilla and Representative Hayes and Cárdenas for introducing the Clean Commute for Kids Act, which directs $25 billion to transition diesel school buses to zero-emission, electric school buses,” said Trisha Dello Iacono, National Field and Legislative Manager for Moms Clean Air Force. “This will ensure that our children are not being exposed to harmful diesel pollution during their commute to and from school. Millions of children still ride diesel-powered school buses, putting their health at risk from dangerous pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and interfere with their ability to learn.  The Clean Commute for Kids Act is good for kids, drivers, and communities, and will reduce harmful climate pollution as well.”

“Clean school buses are a vital part of ensuring climate pollution reductions and improving the health of students, one of the populations most impacted by climate impacts and poor air quality in the United States,” said Elizabeth Gore, Senior Vice President of Political Affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. “This bill will increase the deployment of electric school buses and supporting infrastructure throughout the United States, especially in low-income school districts. It will also help scale up the ability of electric school buses to provide critical grid services which increases resiliency and can provide new economic opportunities for local communities.”

“We are thrilled to see a robust investment in zero-emission school buses for students in the Clean Commute for Kids Acts introduced by Senator Padilla and Representatives Cárdenas and Hayes,” said Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “With a $25 billion investment, we can transition nearly half of the dirty diesel bus fleet to pollution-free electric buses across the Midwest and the country. The 25 million U.S. children who ride on school buses deserve a clean, healthy ride instead of breathing asthma-inducing fumes from diesel buses. Clean electric school buses will protect students’ health, their communities, and the climate.”

“Globally, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) make up about 4 percent of the on-road fleet but contribute to a disproportionate fraction of total transportation sector emissions, including 36 percent of on-road fuel consumption and GHG emissions, over 70 percent of on-road nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions, and 60 percent of PM2.5 emissions,” said John Boesel, Chairman and CEO of the clean transportation nonprofit, CALSTART. “Smart policies like the Clean Commute for Kids Act that would electrify heavier vehicles both clean the air and directly benefit our children and the communities who historically bear the burden of MHDV emissions.”

After years of parents, students, and advocates organizing for a clean ride for kids, we are excited to work with Congress to pass funding to bring more electric school buses to communities throughout the country,” said Chispa National Director Johana Vicente. “Investing $25 billion to help 25 million children riding school buses breathe cleaner air in the formative years when their lungs are developing will make a big difference in their lives. Directing significant portions of this funding to low-income communities of color, who face the worst effects of environmental pollution, will ensure that we address the needs of impacted communities first. This is the bold investment that we need to accelerate the transition of the nation’s fleet from dirty, diesel-fueled school buses to zero-emission, electric school buses.

“Electric school buses offer tremendous benefits to communities, including improving local air quality and saving money for school districts over the life of the vehicles. Across the country, EEI's member electric companies have invested nearly $3 billion in electric transportation infrastructure and programs to help deploy electric vehicles, including electric school buses. We are committed to supporting policies that encourage continued investment in electric transportation, including charging infrastructure. I applaud Rep. Cárdenas for introducing the Clean Commute for Kids Act, which will help schools deploy electric buses and the necessary infrastructure to charge those vehicles." – Brian Wolff, EEI Executive Vice President, Public Policy and External Affairs

“The Clean Commute for Kids Act makes needed action possible by upgrading and replacing polluting school buses with clean vehicles, with a specific focus on Black and brown communities. These clean infrastructure grants will go a long way toward fighting smog and chronic respiratory conditions in Latino communities, where about 10% of children suffer from asthma. For more than 25 million American children and their communities, this legislation means a cleaner and safer ride to school.” – Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, PhD, Clean Transportation Advocate, GreenLatinos.

Last summer, Cárdenas introduced the Affordable Solar Energy For Our Communities Act. This bill establishes a $200 million grant program to finance the planning and construction of solar installations thereby reducing costs for low-income families. 

Congressman Tony Cárdenas is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.