Merkley, Senators Introduce Bill to Make Public Transit Cleaner, Healthier, More Affordable

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), today introduced a bill that would provide transit authorities with zero-interest loans to purchase electric buses—curbing emissions among the top source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, and cutting fleet maintenance costs by tens of thousands of dollars.

“Climate chaos is threatening our future, and we need to act boldly and quickly to stop it,” Merkley said.“Electric buses mean lower operating costs as well as better health and less pollution, but they cost more to buy.  A little up-front help from the federal government turns regular transit updates into opportunities to cut down on emissions and save money. It’s common sense and will help build the foundation for a greener future.”

“Combatting climate change isn’t just important; it also is good for our economy.” Smith said. “Beyond a smaller carbon footprint, electric buses are quieter, more efficient, produce far fewer health harming emissions, and have dramatically lower fuel costs than petroleum diesel buses. Quieter buses and no petroleum diesel smoke make our roads more pleasant for those sharing them, like bikers and pedestrians. With this bill, we’re helping our cities make an upfront investment in the health of their communities.” 

“Nevada is a leader in clean energy. And I’m doing all I can to ensure that we continue to strengthen that leadership and support opportunities to create good-paying green jobs, improve the quality of the air we breathe, and help curb climate change,” said Cortez Masto. “This legislation will empower our local transit agencies to combat carbon emissions, improve residents’ quality of life, and save money in the long term. I’ll continue working to identify innovative, clean energy solutions that help America thrive.”

“Climate change is a clear and present threat to our communities and our future. We should be exploring every opportunity to mitigate its effects and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Booker. “Making public transportation cleaner and more environmentally-friendly is one such opportunity.  Our bill is a common-sense way to incentivize local governments to transition their bus fleets to all electric-vehicles, a move that will drastically reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality, and lower maintenance costs.”

“It is beyond time to take action to combat the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions and secure the American people’s right to clean air and clean water for future generations,” said Harris. “I’m proud to cosponsor this bill that would go a long way towards eliminating a major source of air pollution and would give communities across the country the funding they need to invest in new, green transportation infrastructure.”

The transportation sector is the number one source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., and 44 percent of U.S. carbon pollution comes from oil. More than 1,000 transit districts operate buses that have traveled over two billion vehicle miles. Electrifying all of the nation’s diesel-powered transit buses could save more than two million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, while eliminating tons of nitrogen oxides and hundreds of pounds of diesel particulate matter containing dozens of toxic air contaminants. Transitioning to cleaner buses will drastically help cut down on carbon pollution and improve communities’ air quality. Additionally, transit authorities could save roughly $40,000 a year on fuel and maintenance.

Currently, however, switching to electric buses can be cost prohibitive. That’s why the Community Health and Clean Transit Act builds on the success of the Department of Transportation’s Low and No Emission grant program and creates an innovative financing tool to offset the upfront capital cost of electric buses, and help communities choose clean and efficient transit fleets. 

The Community Health and Clean Transit Act provides zero-interest loans to qualified transit districts for the additional upfront costs of electric buses over conventional diesel buses, as well as the associated charging infrastructure, and technical assistance. The bill would authorize $15 million to cover the default risk of the loan, leveraging critical federal dollars and allowing communities to choose the best bus for their needs and communities.

The bill also encourages innovative partnerships between fleet operators and utilities to facilitate vehicle-to-grid technologies, provide energy storage, and enhance grid resiliency. And, with strong “Buy America” provisions, the bill ensures that electric buses will help create U.S. jobs.