The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently announced that school districts in Florida’s most polluted and populous regions are eligible to apply for $57 million to replace diesel-fueled school buses with clean electric buses. The funds come from Florida’s share of a settlement between the U.S. EPA and Volkswagen after the carmaker was found to have cheated on emissions requirements. Of the $166 million in funding allocated to Florida, 70% of funds will be allocated to school, transit, and shuttle bus upgrades.
Over the last two years, Florida Conservation Voters Education Fund has amplified the voices of concerned parents and communities in demanding that the hundreds of millions of dollars our state is receiving from the VW settlement be used to upgrade our aging fleet of toxic diesel school buses to zero-emissions electric buses. Together with the resounding voices of our supporters, we urged Governor Ron DeSantis and DEP to focus this funding in low-income communities and communities of color who experience disproportionately high environmental burdens like poor air quality and high rates of asthma.
Of the nearly 500,000 school buses operating in the United States, nearly all of them are powered by diesel fuel. Diesel school buses expose 2.7 million Florida students to toxins and known carcinogens and emit harmful pollutants, including particulates and greenhouse gases. This issue is especially prevalent in densely populated areas of Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Duval, and Pensacola, which DEP has classified as “Air Quality Priority Areas.”
Retiring dirty diesel buses in favor of electric school buses reduces children’s exposure to toxic diesel pollutants, reduces transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, and helps lower fuel costs for school districts. Diesel exhaust is harmful for everyone, but children are most at risk because they breathe at a faster rate than adults, meaning they breathe in more toxins. According to a Harvard study, African-Americans are about three times more likely to die from exposure to airborne pollutants than other racial groups in the United States. Children of color are nine times more likely to have asthma than white children. Transitioning school buses from diesel to electric would be an immediate and smart way to help increase public health in low-income and communities of color. This transition would be a solid first step for communities that have been forced to bear the burden of increased pollution and systemic segregation.
This victory for Florida’s kids has been years in the making and is all thanks to your support, advocacy, and participation in the public process. Conservation Voters like you sent more than 4,000 public comments and emails to DEP and local school district leaders in support of clean, electric school buses. Thank you.
With your continued support, FCV Education Fund will continue to work with our partners, parents, school districts, and DEP to promote this quality program.