We live in the Land of Enchantment, but the air we breathe isn’t always crisp and clean. In fact, Bernalillo County regularly gets failing grades for air quality from the American Lung Association, and we’re hearing from residents that poor air quality is directly impacting their families and children. In Albuquerque neighborhoods where fleets of diesel buses idle to warm up each morning and a higher percentage of children ride the bus to school, families are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality and dirty diesel – with increases in respiratory diseases and even resulting in shortened lifespans.
We must do everything we can to make these neighborhoods more livable, and we have a huge opportunity in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s settlement with Volkswagen over its Clean Air Act violations. We should use a portion of New Mexico’s funds from the settlement to transition our state’s school bus fleet from dirty diesel to clean electric. It’s a true win-win for our communities, our families and our state.
I recently wrapped up a short legislative session at our state Capitol and was proud to sponsor a memorial bill urging Gov. Susana Martinez to use a portion of our state’s allocation of nearly $18 million from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund for two purposes: the benefit of New Mexico’s K-12 public schools and protection of New Mexico’s environment and community health via the purchase and investment in electric, zero-emission bus fleets.
The settlement provides nearly $18 million in valuable funding to New Mexico that can be used to purchase new electric school buses or retrofit existing buses to meet zero emission standards. I strongly believe that this settlement provides us a unique opportunity to be a national leader on the issue of fighting diesel pollution.
While the settlement requires the funds to be used for air quality-related projects, using these funds to also address an important capital need for school districts will provide a second important benefit to our state. We must consider the practicality of using this money for new low-emission buses – a move that will save our state $11,000 annually on fuel and maintenance costs per new bus purchased. In fact, every diesel bus replaced with a zero-emission bus is the equivalent of taking 27 cars off the road.
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