Green school buses on the way (photo: Caitlin Looby)
This past week New Yorkers went to the polls and voted for justice. With passage of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act we now have the opportunity to move with resources, resolve, relief, and hope in tackling some of the most pressing issues of our time.
We look forward to the swift and diligent implementation of the bond act, including ensuring the electric school bus purchasing process creates high-quality community-sustaining jobs through the usage of incentives that encourage manufacturers to commit to good wages, benefits, and training. Labor, climate, and community groups are enthusiastic about the progress awaiting our state and ready to support the process.
In April, Governor Hochul and the State Legislature advanced the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act of 2022 to appear as a ballot initiative. Now passed by voters by a wide margin, this measure will be a significant step in addressing the climate crisis, making our economy more equitable, and advancing New York State’s climate and economic justice priorities.
There are four major focus areas in this legislation, including climate change mitigation. A key component of this is ensuring at least $500 million for zero-emission school bus purchases and conversions and building supporting infrastructure. This will make for cleaner air in our communities and contribute to a reduction in global warming, while creating green jobs.
My organization, Jobs to Move America, has spoken with unionized workers who manufacture school buses that are starting to transition to electric. One told us he is excited about the transition and would love to see all of his company’s school bus models go electric. Another said that he is very happy knowing that the buses he manufactures will benefit his grandkid's generation and generations to come. They're excited because their work will positively impact the future of our communities. They're also excited because their union gives them job security and the training they need to manufacture electric school buses.
New York is primed to lead in climate and labor justice to remedy the pitfalls we presently face and safeguard the future of our communities. There is no second option. There is no other time. If we didn’t recognize this earlier, the pandemic has blatantly underscored how vulnerable our environment, economy, and health are. With passage of the Environmental Bond Act, we took a milestone leap towards ensuring all workers – manufacturers, mechanics, drivers, and more – benefit from the green transition and that the electric school bus industry is developed equitably to create good green jobs.
We have known and suffered the adverse effects of greenhouse gas emissions for generations. Diesel emissions have been harming our planet, children, and workers – especially school bus drivers and mechanics – for decades. The long overdue transition to 450,000+ electric school buses will be an essential step towards protecting the health and well-being of our communities, our planet, and our future. With zero tailpipe emissions and 70% less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel buses, they are the cleanest alternative available.
Committing to an all-electric school bus fleet, as New York has done, creates the opportunity to be a world leader in the transition away from fossil fuels. We can set an example for other states of sustainable development and how it benefits people, particularly children and workers.
Electrification represents a massive shift in the vehicle manufacturing industry, presenting character and future defining choices for our state. The implementation of the Environmental Bond Act in New York is an opportunity for us to end the pattern of job losses during industry transition, and choose to transform in a way that creates high quality community-supporting jobs.
This investment has the capacity to be remedial, protective, and preventive. The past two years have been a bellowing wakeup call for us to recognize how one unexpected calamity can upend our lives and throw everything off center. It is imperative for us to urgently implement an equitable transition into electric school buses to counter the climate and economic crises, and tap into the transformative potential of using government procurement for public good.
Farah Mehreen Ahmad is the New York Senior Organizer at Jobs to Move America, as well as a writer, translator, and interpreter. On Twitter @JobsMoveAmerica.