Senator Ron Wyden Town Hall

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) addresses a question during a 2018 town hall meeting at North Bend High School.

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Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Friday co-sponsored legislation that would protect children’s health by investing $25 billion to replace existing diesel buses in the nation’s school bus fleet with zero-emission vehicles.

“Children riding a school bus throughout Oregon and nationwide should not be forced to breathe polluted air when heading to school in the morning and back home in the afternoon,” Wyden said. “As schools reopen to in-person learning after the pandemic, this legislation marks a key investment in kids’ health, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, while also tackling environmental racismand generating good-paying jobs in the 21st century.”

“Every child—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or how much money their parents make—should be able to travel to and from school without having to be exposed to toxins and dangerous air pollution that drives asthma and other diseases,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus. “There's no reason nearly 25 million American kids should be exposed to pollution spewing from diesel school buses, and when we pass this bill they won't be.”

The Clean Commute for Kids Act responds to the fact that on a typical day before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 25 million American children face exposure to air pollution when they ride more than 500,000 predominantly diesel buses to school.

The bill would authorize $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 addition to Wyden and Merkley, the Senate bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) It is co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

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

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