LCV’s Chispa Engages Congress on Clean Buses for Healthy Niños Fight

Betsy Lopez-Wagner, blopez-wagner@lcv.org, 202-454-4570

National effort calls for pressure on Governors to use VW Settlement Funds on #CleanRide4Kids

Washington, D.C. – Today at a briefing on Capitol Hill with Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), parents, youth promotores, community organizers and researchers from across the country shared their fight against diesel pollution and their solution to cut down on downright dirty air.

Chispa, a Latino community organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters, started the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign in April, after identifying Volkswagen (VW) settlement dollars available for states use. Now it’s organizing with communities at the state level in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Maryland and Connecticut to build momentum to ensure communities – particularly communities of color – no longer suffer the negative health consequences of diesel school bus emissions. They’re partnering with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which is also advocating for zero-emissions electric buses in nine Midwestern states. Other efforts are launching in New York this month.

“It’s undeniable that the health effects of diesel pollution and the climate crisis are exposing families to public health threats and the greatest burdens of a warming planet,” said Ernesto Vargas, national director of LCV’s Chispa. “This campaign is about commitment to our communities, our families and ourselves to continue working with communities of color, especially Latino communities, to fight for clean air, clean buses, and healthy environment for all.”

“The Midwest alone will receive nearly half a billion dollars from the VW settlement to reduce diesel pollution,” said Ann Mesnikoff, Federal Legislative Director for the nonprofit Environmental Law & Policy Center, that is working in nine Midwestern states. “States should take these VW dollars as an opportunity to get dirty diesel school buses off the road because they transport about five million kids in the Midwest each day, exposing them to harmful emissions that can cause asthma.”

The campaign runs at the national level with a broad coalition of several organizations engaging people to act using online platforms. It urges governors to use the $2.7 billion VW Mitigation Trust Fund allocated for state use from a $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen, which polluted the air we breathe by cheating federal emissions tests, to transform diesel-powered school bus fleets to electric #CleanRide4Kids.

Today’s briefing offered community members the platform to engage members of Congress and their staff on the issue of dirty air, VW settlement dollars and ask that these officials raise their voices in their home states to pressure governors to put the health and well-being of youth and communities first and allocate the mitigation trust fund dollars for retrofitting or purchase of electric buses.

“The children of Los Angeles, and all children, have a right to breathe clean air where they live, learn, and play. That’s why the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign is so important,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez. “Taking dirty diesel buses off the roads and replacing them with clean, zero-emission buses will protect the health of our kids who ride buses to and from school, as well as bolster our fight against climate change.”

Every day, 25 million children are exposed to dirty air from school buses on their way to and from school. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by and carry the heaviest burden of pollution and dirty air – their health is on the line. Diesel school bus emissions expose children, families, and communities to dirty air, tied to asthma, and cancer-causing pollutants.

“Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the world and though we have ambitious plans to reduce emissions and waste as part of our Sustainable City plan, our ability to make a move to eliminate petroleum-fueled school buses  is impacted by a simple lack of funding,” said Cristina Sanchez, a Sustainability Liaison for UCLA, LAUSD and mother. “If the LA Unified School District were able to use even a fraction of the nearly $400 million available to our state from the VW settlement, we could make a huge difference in the lives of the children who depend on school buses as their only way to get to school.

“Not being able to breathe is scary,” said ShawnaMarie Robinson, 9, who stood up to address the room.

Her mother, Maryland resident Tyrese Robinson, is a special education teacher and mother of four. “Our children are literally packed into a box on these school buses where they are exposed to different kinds of harmful emissions which can trigger asthma, bronchitis and different allergies – or worse.”

“Students ride the bus to school every day to learn, we shouldn’t have to worry about breathing in toxic smoke that can harm us,” said Axel Vargas Sanchez, a student and environmental leader at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, AZ.

Additionally, Chispa launched a new website, www.cleanride4kids.org, dedicated to the campaign today and made the announcement that Chispa is partnering with 13 groups on a digital petition to send to governors across the nation.

“The pollution is poison that impacts the potential,” said Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health scientist and associate professor at the School of Public Health – University of Maryland, noting exposure to diesel pollution increases risks of cancer and respiratory illnesses in children. “We need to move forward from an environmental justice perspective and make sure we reduce exposures from all sources of pollution because these communities are overburdened, they are overexposed.”

“I am one of hundreds of millions of people living with asthma in this country,” said Alex Rodriguez, a community organizer with Chispa in Connecticut. “My struggle with asthma has been tough — activities such as soccer and basketball would take a heavy toll on me and it’s held me back from my pursuits, including being barred from military service, which is something I dreamed of doing.

“As a bus driver, my mom was exposed to the terrible exhaust on a daily basis, and it would make her nauseous and light headed. She would be here today, but she’s doing all she can to survive the destruction of hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico. If she were here today, where she was supposed to be, I know she’d be proud of my speaking out zero emission school buses for not only children in Connecticut, but across the United States.”

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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.

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