California Adopts Bill to Clean Air Inside and Out of School

The California legislature just passed a bill that will make the air safer to breathe and the water safer to drink in public schools, while reducing energy bills. It also accelerates the installation of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles needed to combat the largest source of air pollution that makes lungs more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Electric School Bus


Assembly Bill (AB) 841 authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting directs state energy efficiency funding to upgrade heating, air conditioning, and ventilation (HVAC) systems in public schools, prioritizing schools in underserved communities and those near freeways or industrial facilities. Schools will need to ramp up ventilation to re-open safely due to COVID-19, but many schools have inefficient or broken HVAC systems. This bill would fund repair and replacement of these inefficient systems, as well as new filters to reduce risk from both COVID-19 and wildfire smoke. It also provides funds to replace aging and inefficient water fixtures and appliances in schools, saving water and energy while reducing exposure to lead. This bill provides targeted funding for just three years, but will provide health and cost savings benefits for years to come.

To combat the air pollution that makes communities more vulnerable to COVID-19 and meet the state’s climate goals, California must quickly transition its transportation sector to zero-emission vehicles. AB 841 would deploy charging infrastructure for all types of electric vehicles (EVs)—light, medium, and heavy-duty, fostering an active partnership between the electric industry, labor, and independent firms to meet the state’s air quality and climate goals. Appropriately, the bill requires that not less than 35 percent of those infrastructure investments be made in underserved communities burdened by dangerous air pollution and poverty.

Installing electrical equipment needed to charge electric cars, trucks and buses not only keeps workers on the job at a time when unemployment is soaring, it accelerates transportation electrification that puts downward pressure on electric rates and bills to the benefit of all utility customers. According to Synapse Energy Economics, EV drivers in Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric territory have already contributed more than $800 million in excess of associated costs, money that is automatically returned to all customers in the form of lower rates. At a moment when many Californians are struggling, the state should expand access to EV charging that puts downward pressure on utility bills.

If signed into law by Governor Newsom, AB 841 would increase employment, combat deadly tailpipe pollution, save schools money on their utility bills and make them safer environments for children, all without exacerbating California’s budgetary challenges. At a time when the state and the world could use some good news, this bill fits the bill.

About the Authors

Merrian Borgeson

Senior Scientist, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Max Baumhefner

Senior Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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