Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019 | 2 a.m.
This past May, I had one of the best opportunities in my life. I was in Carson City when Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 299 into law, setting up Nevada’s first electric school bus pilot program.
For more than two years, I joined dozens of other Nevada parents in pushing our lawmakers to transition from diesel school buses to electric school buses as part of Chispa Nevada’s Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign. On that day, I was proud to see the governor and Nevada’s legislators taking action to make sure our kids can ride to school in buses that won’t pollute our air.
SB299 does this by allowing school districts to use funds from the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Demonstration program to cover 75% of the cost of an electric school bus or charging infrastructure.
The legislation has been successful. Less than two months after the bill was signed into law, the Public Utilities Commission directed NV Energy, which administers the EVID program, to set aside $1.5 million to meet the goal of SB299. School districts can now work directly with NV Energy to apply for these funds, and soon Nevadans will see the first electric school buses driving down our streets.
This is a big deal for families like mine, which disproportionately bear the burden of air pollution. My son is one of 44,000 Nevada children who suffer from asthma, a chronic illness with no cure. Jacob is 15 years old and has his entire life ahead of him, but his health is put at risk each day by riding in diesel school buses that emit dangerous toxins that can complicate his asthma.
Sometimes, Jacob’s asthma is so bad that he has to go to the hospital. He’s missed so many days of school that I’m worried about his academic future. Watching him suffer asthma attacks is one of the scariest things I’ve experienced as a mom. But Jacob has no other choice but to ride to school in a diesel school bus.
This is the reality for many low-income families, especially in communities of color. Latino and black children are more likely to suffer from asthma, to ride in school buses, and to live in neighborhoods with dirtier air. That’s why our family has been so involved with Chispa Nevada’s Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign and why we believe legislators must quickly switch our school buses to clean, electric models. For our kids, living with diesel pollution is an environmental injustice.
It’s not just our children who are suffering. These diesel school buses drive through our neighborhoods and pollute the air we breathe. They contribute to our poor air quality (Las Vegas was recently ranked 13th most polluted in the nation) and to the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.
SB299 goes a long way toward helping school districts invest in electric school buses. But we can’t stop there. Once the pilot program is successfully launched, we need to go further and bring electric school buses to every part of the state. We need to work to replace our diesel school buses with a clean, zero-emission fleet, so every child in Nevada can have a clean ride to school.
Nevada’s leaders must continue looking for ways to make this possible, through Volkswagen funds, additional EVID grants, or private and public partnerships. Federal funding opportunities exist, too; bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to create a $1 billion grant program for states to purchase zero-emission school buses, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is already a co-sponsor of the Senate legislation.
Investing in electric school buses is investing in the health and future of Nevada’s kids and our communities. NV Energy, the Public Utilities Commission, the governor’s office and other partners should work together to tackle diesel pollution and find innovative ways to make zero-emission vehicles a reality.
Our children and our families deserve to breathe clean air. It’s time to make it happen.
Ivón Meneses is a Las Vegas resident and a promoter with Chispa Nevada.