First published in the Albuqueque Democrat

November 7, 2023

Op-ed by Representative Debbie Sariñana

The federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 allocated $5 billion to help school districts transition away from diesel buses. Five New Mexico school districts have received grants for new electric school buses.

The op-ed was first published Op-ed by Rep. Debbie Sariñana represents House District 21, which covers Southeast Albuquerque.

Most of us have fond memories of riding a school bus to school, a field trip, or high school sports. But if we think back, we can also remember how loud it was and the smell of the exhaust. It was awful, and unfortunately, little has changed since we were kids.

I spent 20 years as an educator, so I know all too well about the hazards of school bus emissions. Studies show that exposure to diesel exhaust can lead to asthma and respiratory illnesses and worsen heart and lung ailments, especially in children because of their immature respiratory systems and higher breathing rates per body mass.

This coming legislative session, we can do something about it. In 2021, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, allocating $5 billion in grants for the Clean School Bus Program to help school districts that want to transition away from diesel buses. Five New Mexico school districts received these grants for new electric school buses, and more applied this year.

I am proud to sponsor the School Bus Modernization Act. The idea is simple. New Mexico will designate funding and simplify systems to make it financially feasible for school districts that want to retire aging diesel buses with electric buses.

A slow but deliberative switch to electric school buses eliminates emissions that harm public health and plays a role in the state’s larger clean energy transition. Electric buses can serve as batteries on the grid and help utilities meet demand. They are proven to work in cold climates and warm climates. Colorado, California and Michigan are having tremendous success and few, if any, issues with temperature extremes as they transition to electric school buses.

We also hear that school bus drivers love them. There are no gears to worry about, power delivery is smooth with instant response, and EVs are also nearly silent – with less noise, vibration, and harshness than is typically associated with diesel or gasoline drive trains.

Remember how loud your school bus was? Now, drivers can hear more of what’s going on in the bus, visibility can be improved due to fewer constraints from engine placement, and both students and drivers have safer, quieter rides.

Electric school buses will also save money. Aging diesel buses are expensive to operate, fuel and maintain. Districts are estimated to save between $4,000 to $11,000 per school bus every year. These cost savings can go back into the classrooms, directly helping students learn.

Electric vehicles and buses give off fewer emissions. There is no doubt that climate change is increasingly harming the health of New Mexicans, and the rate of its associated extreme weather events, such as extreme heat, drought, and flooding – along with wildfires and air pollution – is quickly accelerating.

The School Bus Modernization Act is a proactive step we can take to protect New Mexicans from the harmful health impacts of climate change while working toward a healthier and more resilient future. This is one of those opportunities when the right thing to do for kids’ health and the environment also makes good fiscal sense. This thoughtful and practical plan can’t become a reality without your help.

Please get in touch with your school districts and ask them to apply for electric buses. Contact your representative and the governor and ask them to support the School Bus Modernization Act. Together, we can improve kids’ lives, help our air quality and save critical dollars for educating New Mexico students.