Santa Fe, New Mexico — More than 125 parents, students, families, and activists gathered at the New Mexico Capitol Thursday morning to demand governors, attending nearby the summer meeting of the National Governors Association, use the $2.7 billion in Volkswagen settlement money to replace diesel school buses with zero-emission, electric school buses.
“Our children are our most valuable asset, but pollutants like dirty diesel prevent them from developing a strong respiratory system,” said Noe Orgaz, an organizer with Protegete, an environmental organization from Colorado. “Children with asthma do not know why it is hard to breathe, and they should not have to worry about it. It is our responsibility to protect them.”
More than 25 million children ride school buses each day in the United States, facing exposure to dangerous toxins that can cause asthma, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. At least six million children suffer from asthma nationwide. Asthma attacks are the number one chronic condition for children and the top reason for school absences among children and adolescents.
“I’d rather drive my three daughters to three different schools each morning than to have them ride in a diesel school bus,” said Martha Favela, a New Mexico mom and promotora with Juntos: Our Air, Our Water. “Even just dropping them off at school, we pass the buses idling and breathe in the diesel fumes. Children go to school to learn, not to get sick from pollution. I ask Gov. Martinez to use funds from the Volkswagen settlement to invest in electric school buses, because our families deserve to breathe clean air.”
Favela’s second daughter suffers from severe breathing problems, as does her husband, who drives diesel trucks for a living. Both have chest pains and cough through the night. Learning that other families face similar problems drove Martha to join Juntos as a volunteer and later an organizer.
Herlinda Calderon, an Arizona mom, shared a similar story. After realizing that air pollution was making her daughter’s asthma worse, Calderon began organizing her family members through Chispa Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey in Arizona has allocated $38 million to replace or retrofit school buses, but not for electric school buses.
“I want Governor Ducey to know we need more. There are too many kids who deserve a healthy environment, and we need to incentivize school districts to choose zero-emission, electric school buses, not replace diesel with more diesel,” Calderon said.
The rally was organized by the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, which includes environmental groups Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund, Juntos: Our Air, Our Water also in New Mexico, Protégete: Nuestro Futuro Vale La Lucha in Colorado, the League of Conservation Voters’ Chispa Arizona and Chispa Nevada, as well as Chispa Connecticut and Chispa Maryland. Non-profit advocacy groups across the country have supported the campaign, including Moms Clean Air Force.
“Today I speak on behalf of over one million parents who have joined Moms Clean Air Force, because protecting our kids from dangerous air pollution is essential to their future,” said Celerah Hewes, a New Mexico mom. “Over the last eight years, our state has been running in the wrong direction — weakening oil and gas air quality requirements at a time that we need stronger standards. New Mexicans deserve better. Our children deserve better. All Americans deserve reasonable clean air protections at the state and federal level that reduce pollution. We demand our elected officials consider our climate and our children.”
Since 2017, the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign has called on governors to use funds from the $2.7 billion Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation settlement to replace dirty diesel school buses that put the futures of children at risk.
As states begin releasing their Environmental Mitigation plans, the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign is asking governors to fully fund and implement plans that replace diesel school buses with zero-emission school buses. The campaign wants funding to prioritize those disproportionately affected by air pollution, including low-income and communities of color.”
“Latino communities are deeply affected by air pollution, more often living near sources of pollution and breathing unhealthy levels of dirty air,” said Alex Aispuro, a youth promotora with Chispa Nevada. “We are more likely to suffer from illnesses caused by our environment because of this. If we want this to change, we have to raise our voice and speak up. That is why I am here today to support the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign, so other kids like my friend Robert can access breathable air. I urge Governor Sandoval and governors across the nation to support this campaign and invest in electric school buses.”
Aispuro’s 19-year-old best friend Robert has suffered from asthma for years, often missing school for doctor’s appointments because of his illness. He has riden diesel buses to and from school since he was 11 years old.
“Governors, you have the authority to ensure school districts acquire Electric School Buses that will improve our air quality,” Orgaz reiterated. “This is your opportunity to leave behind a legacy of promoting public health and protecting our children.”
Chispa is a community organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters. Chispa builds the capacity of Latinos and families to influence policy makers and pressure polluters to protect communities’ rights to clean air and water, healthy neighborhoods, and a safe climate for generations to come.
To learn more, please visit www.cleanride4kids.org or check out #CleanRide4Kids.