OpEd: Vote Yes! For Electric School Buses! Vote Yes! For Student Health!

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Our students’ health is negatively affected depending on the community they live in and the school they attend.

On Long Island, we all are familiar with the ways some of our communities have historically and continue to be redlined into areas that are oversaturated with polluting infrastructures such as landfills, power plants, waste transfer stations, and incinerators, creating what the New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC) calls Potential Environmental Justice Areas (PEJA).

Our communities like Wyandanch, North Bellport, Central Islip, Mastics and Brentwood have the highest Emergency Room visits for asthma in Suffolk County. Our communities like Freeport are seeing our children’s right to green space being trampled on, though the community is fighting back!

Another way we can fight back is to vote Yes on Prop. 1 on this year’s ballot for the Clean Air, Clean Water and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which will invest in electric school buses.

In accordance with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) of 2019, which sets mandates to reduce emissions in New York State by 2050, the Climate Justice Working Group (CJWG) was created. The CJWG is a nine member group who were appointed to draft a Disadvantaged Communities criteria; this criteria will be used to ensure that at least 35-40% of all climate related funds are spent in communities identified as disadvantaged communities. The criteria factors in cumulative impacts of environmental and health burdens, as well as population characteristics.

Why electric school buses? Emissions from diesel and gas school buses create poor air quality that contributes to the climate crisis and also creates dangerous environmental health conditions for our children, especially our children living in disadvantaged communities. We must ensure that we ditch diesel, get off costly gas, and pass the Clean Air Clean Water and Green Jobs Environmental Bond act.

The CLCPA provides the emission reduction mandates, and the CJWG provides the guidance on which communities need to be prioritized. The Clean Air, Clean Water and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act seeks to fund our communities on the frontlines of the climate and public health crisis. Just like the CLCPA mandate, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act requires 35-40% of the benefits of new school bus investments go to disadvantaged communities facing cumulative environmental impacts.

Voting Yes to the Clean Air, Clean Water and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act provides the opportunity for us to have the funding to replace 45,000 diesel and gas school buses in New York State with clean modern all-electric school buses for our students. Our current school buses break down and have old engines that cost us time and money. The state of our school buses not only contribute to emissions that create poor air quality, but to noise pollution as well. Our students deserve a clean, safe, and reliable bus ride to and from school.

When we vote for our students we are also voting for the many bus operators and staff who are also overexposed to harmful fumes from the diesel and gas school buses.

The time is now to vote Yes to invest $500 million into our students and for student health! This funding will be used to purchase electric buses and chargers, and to ensure people who work for the bus companies have access to training on electric fleet maintenance.

Long Island is on the frontlines of the climate crisis with our shore line under threat of rising seas. Long Islanders can make a great impact this election cycle to reduce that threat when we vote for electric school buses.

On Long Island we have 127 school districts. Vote Yes for the Clean Air, Clean Water Environmental Bond Act to ensure that we prioritize our students, our kids, our communities and our workers in the bus industry who are fighting the hardest to breathe clean fresh air.

Monique Fitzgerald is a climate justice organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition.