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Democratic lawmakers are unveiling legislatio­n that would invest $25 billion to convert the nation’s fleet of gasoline- and diesel-powered school buses to electric vehicles, aiming at a component of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastruc­ture plan to improve children’s health. The legislatio­n led by Sen. Alex Padilla,

D-calif., seeks to build on the administra­tion’s effort this week to promote the electrific­ation of school buses, which Biden sees as an important step in addressing climate change and economic inequities.

School buses make up 90% of the nation’s total bus fleet and typically carry nearly 25 million children each day. Emissions from diesel engines may contribute to respirator­y illnesses in children, studies have found, and have been linked to poor academic performanc­e.

The bill introduced this week would authorize federal grant money over 10 years, with 40% of it devoted to replacing school buses that serve mostly nonwhite, poorer communitie­s.

It would cover the expense of purchasing electric school buses, building charging stations and providing workforce training. The legislatio­n also directs the Environmen­tal Protection Agency to conduct outreach to help school districts with the transition.

“I know firsthand how outdated diesel school buses expose our children to harmful and unnecessar­y pollution,” Padilla told The Associated Press, explaining how as a kid he frequently rode the bus to get to class and for after-school programs such as baseball games. “Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my lungs would be filled with diesel exhaust by the time I arrived at school each day.”

“Transition­ing our school bus fleet to zeroemissi­on vehicles is an essential aspect of building equitable, sustainabl­e infrastruc­ture and is a wise investment in our children, our environmen­t and our future,” he said.

Joining Padilla in co-sponsoring the legislatio­n are Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-GA., and Reps. Tony Cárdenas, D-calif., and Jahana Hayes, D-conn. The lawmakers’ push comes in a week when Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are highlighti­ng their proposed $45 billion in infrastruc­ture spending to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission transit buses and school buses. Harris visited a North Carolina bus manufactur­ing plant and urged $20 billion in investment­s to help convert the nation’s 500,000 school buses to electric.

Harris’ focus on the issue dates back to legislatio­n she introduced as a California senator in 2019 that would have provided $1 billion in federal grants to help districts electrify school buses. The issue later was a plank in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposed Green New Deal.

Padilla was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill Harris’ seat when she was elected vice president.

The legislatio­n faces an uphill climb to attract 60 votes needed for passage as a stand-alone bill in a Senate divided 50-50, with Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. But as lawmakers start building the Biden infrastruc­ture bill, the measure could become a piece of the broader package that could have more support or that congressio­nal Democrats may try to muscle through on 51 votes via a budget process called reconcilia­tion.

The bill has earned support from an array of outside groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Environmen­tal Defense Fund, the Environmen­tal Law & Policy Center, the League of Conservati­on Voters and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Public schools are huge consumers of mass transit, and the challenge of getting students to school buildings in a more green, efficient way is one we must tackle immediatel­y,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT’S president. “By investing in zero-emission school buses we can create cleaner, healthier, more sustainabl­e school communitie­s where our children don’t just survive but actually thrive.”

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