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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Will Merg: Driving toward change: Why we need zero-emission school buses in Washington

By Will Merg

By Will Merg

Routines don’t change much for me during the school year. Each day after school, I walk past a long line of school buses to find my bus as diesel fumes wash over me from the idling buses. I am strangely comforted by the smell, because it signals that I’m going home, but I’m also deeply alarmed because I’ve learned what the impacts of fossil fuels can be.

Diesel pollution causes cancer, contributes to lung and other chronic diseases, and triggers asthma attacks. It is especially harmful to kids with still-developing lungs, and the air pollution inside a school bus can be 4 to 12 times higher than outside.

Yet, almost all of the over 12,000-plus school buses in Washington currently run on diesel.

As one of the youngest members of the Spokane Audubon Society, I also think a lot about the impact of air pollution on birds and wildlife. When I was 4 years old, I watched a Northern Shrike on a lilac bush spearing mouse parts on the sharp, frozen branches. I always consider it my “spark bird,” even though I didn’t officially start birding until I was 8 when my grandparents gave me my first bird book.

Everything has a role in nature, from the tiny mosquito to the towering moose. We are not excluded from this, despite living differently from our animal neighbors.

I believe it is our job to try to better the environment so we can give back to the land and animals we have had the pleasure of enjoying. It is our turn to protect what we hold dear.

When I learned about a bill that aims to convert all our school buses to zero emissions (House Bill 1368), I instantly recognized its potential to improve the health of school kids across the state like me, as well as reduce the climate impacts affecting the survival of birds and wildlife.

This is a big bill in a short legislative session, and its passage would make an outsized impact. The legislation provides clear direction and funding through the Climate Commitment Act to flip our fleet of buses from largely diesel-powered to fossil fuel-free. Last year, 182 electric school buses were waitlisted for federal grants, and with this bill, the state can step in to fill the gap.

The Legislature can and should ensure all Washington kids can get a clean and healthy ride to school. Zero-emission school buses are being manufactured right now and are at the ready. Five other states have transitions in law – we can too.

Investing in zero-emissions school buses will reduce health risks associated with air pollution and improve the quality of life for all residents, especially kids like me who deserve safe and healthy transportation to school.

The transition to zero-emissions buses isn’t just a symbolic gesture; it’s a tangible step toward curbing climate change and protecting the health of our communities.

In this brief legislative session, our decision-makers have an opportunity to embrace practical solutions that promote cleaner air, healthier communities, and a more sustainable future for Washington state. Let’s encourage them to seize this opportunity and pass the Clean School Bus bill.

Will Merg is an eighth-grader at the Odyssey Program at the Libby Center and is one of the youngest members of the Spokane Audubon Society.