Electric Bus Vision in the Deep Trump Abyss

California could soon make polluting combustion-engine buses a thing of the past.

The new bus rule will shift California’s 11,000+ transit buses to zero emissions by 2040.

These are trying times in California. Coming off a brutal fire season and a large number of smog violations, there’s lots of work to do in the Golden State. The good news is that even as the Trump administration is attempting to drive the nation into an abyss of shortsighted fossil fuel extraction, air pollution, and climate-denial policy, California has the opportunity to advance a policy agenda that will clean our air, fight climate pollution, and put people to work in the clean energy economy. Some of this opportunity starts with humble, hardworking vehicles rumbling throughout California cities: the public transit bus.

In September, the state governing body known as the California Air Resources Board (ARB) will consider a new rule that will shift California’s 11,000+ transit buses to zero emissions by 2040. Right now, California leads the United States in zero emission buses deployed, and this move by the Air Resources Board can solidify California as a leader. It’s time to make polluting combustion-engine buses a thing of the past.

Here’s why this zero-emissions bus rule is so significant:

1. When the fifth-largest economy in the world sets a mission to shift all of its transit buses to zero emissions, we will capture the attention of the world. Not only do these zero emission buses eliminate tailpipe emissions, but they also cut climate pollution, also known as greenhouse gases. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released an analysis showing that the greenhouse gas benefits make electric buses better than diesel and natural gas-fueled buses everywhere in the country. The data also shows that places like upstate New York, California and Alaska have the greatest climate benefit from shifting to electric buses.

2. This will be the first major regulation to apply proven zero emissions technology for vehicles that are heavier and larger than cars, like trucks and buses. In a giveaway to big oil companies, the Trump administration has recently proposed to weaken fuel economy standards and revoke California’s authority to have a zero-emission program for cars. While the legal authority for this move is dubious at best, it does denote that the feds are waging war on California’s ability to protect its people from deadly pollution. Advancing zero emission buses provides the opportunity to counter the president’s dirty energy agenda. Let’s shift some of our biggest fuel-guzzling vehicles away from harmful fossil fuels.

3. Finally, adopting this regulation would recognize the significant grassroots efforts that have gone into pushing transit agencies to commit to 100% electric buses. Earthjustice is a very proud member of the Los Angeles County Electric Bus Coalition, which successfully pushed LA Metro and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to commit to 100% zero emission buses last year. While some polluting interests have sought to engage paid actors and astroturf movements to push their dirty agendas, the energy among grassroots activists shows that support for electric buses is authentic and real, and that thousands of Californians stand ready to support the ARB’s big policy moves on the state level.

California’s proposed zero-emissions bus standard is not without opposition. The fossil fuel industries’ narrow interests compel them to try to crowd out electric buses with natural gas buses instead. That will likely not deter the California Air Resources Board, but it is a good reminder that combustion interests will advocate for combustion until the very end.

On the other side from the oil and gas industry, thousands of Earthjustice supporters have sent public comments supporting the rule and asking the ARB to set a strong goal for at least 1,250 electric buses on California roads by 2021. Add your name and thoughts:

In addition, Earthjustice is working in coalition with several other organizations to strengthen this rule. The Golden State is seizing upon this golden opportunity for electric buses. With a mandate to shift to zero-emissions buses statewide, our air will be cleaner and our economy more robust. Even Trump can’t unravel that accomplishment. 

Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.

Workers assemble an electric bus at BYD's California facility.
Workers assemble an electric bus at BYD's California facility. (Photo courtesy of BYD)