The road to cleaner air

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act just passed by Congress provides $2.5 billion in funding specifically for zero-emission electric school buses.

Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America

The humble yellow school bus, an iconic symbol of American education, is getting an exciting upgrade in 2021. The bipartisan infrastructure investment package just passed by Congress provides $2.5 billion in funding specifically for zero-emission electric school buses and an additional $2.5 billion for all types of low-emission school buses (which could include electric buses).

This funding is a huge win for our kids, schools and planet. The money will pay to replace thousands of diesel buses with clean electric models. While I have fond memories of riding the bus to field trips and soccer games as a public school student, I also remember the nauseating smell and taste of diesel fumes. Soon, children will get to ride in cleaner, quieter buses without a daily dose of toxic air pollution. 

Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen that causes numerous health problems, including lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. It’s frightening to think about the damage diesel pollution has inflicted on the lungs of the millions of American children who take buses to school every day. 

By accelerating the transition to electric school buses, the United States is taking a serious step to protect children’s health and address the climate crisis. Transportation is the number one source of climate-harming carbon emissions in the United States. Replacing our fossil-fuel powered buses with electric models will significantly reduce carbon pollution, helping to mitigate climate change.  

The passage of this bill is a major milestone in the campaign for electric buses. When the first electric school bus in the United States rolled out in Kings Canyon Unified School District in Central California in 2014, the nationwide transition to electric buses seemed like a pipe dream. But now, only seven years later, kids from Florida to North Dakota are getting a clean ride to school, and the federal government is funding thousands more buses across the country.

PIRG, Environment America and our state groups have worked tirelessly for the past several years to bring the benefits of electric buses to the attention of the public and decision-makers. Since we published our first report on the subject, PIRG has become a leading authority on the issue. 

We’ve published case studies of the first cities and school districts to adopt electric buses, an analysis of how states used the money from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to fund clean transportation, and a guide for how schools and cities can finance their transitions. Beyond educating and informing the public with that research, we’ve connected manufacturers, utilities, school districts, policymakers and transit workers through webinars and other events. 

In addition, Environment America has advocated relentlessly for cleaner air and safer transportation. We recently organized hundreds of school board members and local elected officials across the country to petition Congress for federal funding for electric buses. We also generated nearly 4,000 messages to the House of Representatives from Americans who support spending billions on electric buses. Our partner groups in Texas, New Jersey, Wisconsin and California have helped drive policy at the state and local level. And PIRG has joined forces with other non-profit advocacy groups, such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, in the Alliance for Electric School Buses, which highlights the need for electric buses

Winning $2.5 billion in federal funding for electric school buses is a testament to the power of citizen advocacy to protect public health and the environment. We couldn’t have gotten here without the support of our members, allies, and of course our champions in Congress and the Biden administration including Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Alex Padilla (CA), Sen. Raphael Warnock (GA), Rep. Jahana Hayes (CT) and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (CA).

But we’re not stopping here. Our groups will continue to push for federal support of the transition to electric buses, and find ways to maximize the money’s impact. We’re going to keep producing research to inform decision-makers on how electric buses can most effectively help people and the planet. And we won’t stop educating and organizing the public until every child can count on a clean, safe ride home.  


Morgan Hayward

Former Director, Destination: Zero Carbon, Environment America