New diesel rules: School districts had plenty of time to prepare

Capitol Weekly’s article (“School districts tense over new ARB’s diesel rules,” June 12) failed to note that school districts have known for more than 10 years about the need to upgrade their dirty diesel school buses and have had opportunities to apply for funding to do so. Incentive funds have been available from both local air districts, state Carl Moyer funds, and federal EPA. These programs have provided financial incentives to school districts to purchase new school buses to replace older, high-emitting buses and to retrofit in-use diesel school buses.

Here in Napa County, we took advantage of incentive funding more than 10 years ago and currently have an all alternative fuel fleet of 37 compressed natural gas buses, three electric buses, and the only Plug-In Hybrid school bus in California.

We pursued this path because of the known harmful effects of diesel fumes on children’s lungs. Because children’s lungs are still growing, they are more sensitive to pollution impacts than adults. According to the American Lung Association of California, diesel exhaust is a toxic mixture that causes serious health consequences including asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function growth, as well as hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to respiratory illnesses.

An average school bus in California is almost 11 years old, and many are much older. Older buses built before 1987 may release 100 times more fine particles from the tailpipe than newer buses equipped with pollution controls. Inside these older buses, new research indicates that children are breathing higher levels of dangerous toxic emissions that harm lung growth, trigger asthma attacks and elevate cancer risk. This is unacceptable and underscores the need to make changes now.

California’s children are the real victims of poor air quality. Nearly 1 in 10 California children suffers from asthma compared to 1 in 20 nationally. In the San Joaquin Valley, 1 in 6 youngsters have problems with this respiratory disease. Since 1980, the national asthma death rates among children under 20 years of age have increased by nearly 80 percent, and California asthma death rates have contributed more than its share to this dramatic rise.

Because improving children’s health is such a high priority, the voters approved $200 million in state bond funding (1B transportation infrastructure funds) to help school districts to retrofit and replace older buses ahead of state mandates.  School districts should take advantage of this funding to get the earliest protection for children and mitigate the financial impacts of the regulation. Replacing and retrofitting school buses should be a high priority for children’s health protection in every school district.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) recognizes that school districts will need help and have made incentive funds available. It is expected under the new diesel bus/truck rule, ARB will cover all but $25,000 of the cost of a new bus. That translates to $110,000 of the $135,000 cost of a new diesel bus, or $135,000 toward the cost of a $160,000 alternative fuel bus. School districts would be responsible for only $25,000 per bus, which doesn’t include potential funding from local air districts.

Now is not the time to delay protections from diesel pollution from school buses in a state where we have the worst air pollution in the country. Voters want our schools to clean up school buses. Parents want cleaner school buses. And school personnel, who are charged with stewardship of children, are obligated to protect them from the most toxic air contaminant in our environment.

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