School Children, Environmental & Public Interest Groups Protest New Diesel Bus Purchases With Gas Masks

Children and groups wage public demonstration, submit letters to State Air Resources Board demanding natural gas

LOS ANGELES (December 4, 2000) - Donning adult gas masks too large for their fourth grade-sized bodies, twenty young students from Castle Heights Elementary School in Los Angeles sought the only protection they could find against diesel pollution if the California Air Resources Board (CARB) goes ahead with a proposal to spend $15 million on new diesel school buses.

They were joined today by environmental and public health groups at a press conference in front of their school to protest the plan and to show letters they wrote to Governor Gray Davis asking for cleaner natural gas buses instead. Ten representatives from among more than 40 environmental and public interest groups also distributed copies of a letter delivered to the Governor and CARB demanding reconsideration of a plan that allocates part of the FY 2001 $50 million budget for school buses to be spent on diesel school bus technologies.

"New diesel school buses are still not clean enough for our kids," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We should use limited public funds to invest in the cleanest technologies around, particularly when school districts around the state are operating clean natural gas school buses."

The CARB plan allocates $25 million for natural gas school bus purchases and $10 million to retrofit existing school buses to reduce emissions. But there is another $15 million reserved to purchase new diesel school buses, a move many critics say is unwarranted and favors International Truck, a manufacturer of diesel school buses which has lobbied the Air Resources Board heavily on this issue.

International Truck manufactures lower-polluting diesel engines and is seeking eligibility for the funds, but to accommodate diesel technology under the incentive funding the environmental standards will need to be relaxed. Although natural gas buses easily meet current low nitrogen oxides standards, no diesel bus -- even with pollution control devices -- has yet to qualify to the standard. Nitrogen oxides are a major contributor to smog.

"This is the first year that funds have been provided to clean up school buses and the environmental community believes future funding is needed for several more years to fully address this problem," said Todd Campbell, Policy Director for the Coalition for Clean Air. "It is critical that we correctly spend Governor Davis' $50 million at the outset by incentivizing the cleanest available technologies."

Numerous groups, including National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have classified diesel exhaust as a probable human carcinogen. In 1998, the California Air Resources Board listed diesel exhaust particulates as a toxic air contaminant. Critics of the staff’s plan are particularly concerned about diesel’s effects on children. Compared with adults, children average a higher breathing rate and receive greater relative doses of any pollutants. Irritation from air pollutants that would produce only a slight response in an adult can result in potentially significant problems for children’s narrow airways and developing lungs.

The California Air Resources Board will decide whether they will follow the ARB staff’s recommendation at a December 7th board hearing. If they choose to do so, they will reverse a policy in place since the Wilson administration that calls for replacing aging school buses with clean, alternative-fuel buses.