Thomas Built Buses is a company in High Point, North Carolina. Workers at its school-bus factory are thrilled about a new government law. It’s the infrastructure bill. President Joe Biden signed it into law on November 15. Among other things, it sets aside money to help communities buy battery-powered school buses.
That’s good news for Thomas Built. And it’s good news for Chris Pratt. He’s president of a local union. He has also worked as a welder at the Thomas Built plant for 22 years. To him, the new law means one thing: more jobs. “This is something huge for us,” Pratt says.
The infrastructure law sets aside $2½ billion for electric school buses. That’s a tiny chunk of the more than $1 trillion it will invest to build or improve things like roads and bridges. But for workers like those in High Point, this money is a very big deal. It’s also important for people trying to get rid of diesel fumes on children’s bus rides.
There are about 500,000 school buses in the United States. They move 26 million kids every day. About 95% of those buses run on diesel fuel. This adds up to more than 5 million tons of pollution from greenhouse gases a year.
Inhaling fumes from diesel-powered buses is bad for kids. It has been linked to lower test scores. It can also cause breathing problems. When sitting inside those buses, kids often breathe the most polluted air they’re exposed to all day.
It’s hard to produce electric versions of some vehicles. Big trucks are an example. They need huge batteries. And these batteries require long charging times. Making electric school buses would be easier. They don’t usually travel long distances. And there’s plenty of time to charge them during the school day or at night. Making school buses electric would help the environment. It would be better for kids’ health, too.
There are only about 1,200 electric school buses in the U.S. The new government money could bump that number to about 10,000. This could happen within five years.
Jobs on the Way
Kevin Bangston is CEO of Thomas Built. He says the company will soon be hiring a “pretty significant” number of workers. Pratt says the new positions can’t come soon enough. “People come from hours away for these jobs,” he says.
More jobs could be coming at other factories, too. Sanford Bishop is a congressman in Georgia. He represents a district that’s home to a Blue Bird bus factory. Bishop expects there to be more bus-building jobs soon. That would help his community financially. “It makes good environmental sense” too, Bishop says.
A Clean and Green Future
There’s a bill called the Clean Commute for Kids Act of 2021. It’s making its way through Congress. It will make a big impact if it becomes law. The bill was introduced by Alex Padilla. He’s a senator from California. The bill would set aside $25 billion. That would pay for pollution-free school buses. It’s enough to replace nearly half of the diesel-burning school buses (pictured below) on U.S. roads. Padilla called the bill “a wise investment in our children, our environment, and our future.”