Meridian High School
Falls Church, Virginia
3:24 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone! Good afternoon. Good afternoon. How about Marisa? (Applause.) Welcome. Have a seat. Have a seat.
It’s — what a joy it’s been to be with you all of you this afternoon on this beautiful campus with these incredible young leaders, so many of whom we met before I walked into here just now. And, Marisa, you’re one of them.
I say to the Administrator: When we — when we meet young leaders like we were with this afternoon, I know the future of our national is bright, and I feel so very optimistic. So thank you for that. And to all the administrators and teachers and coaches and parents who are just raising these beautiful leaders.
And today — so we are joined with a bunch of folks who are, of course, dedicated to building a future for all our communities:
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael Regan, who is a friend, who is a colleague, who is a national and an international leader on these issues.
Mitch Landrieu, who is here, who is our infrastructure coordinator and has been doing some of the real detailed work of making sure that everything the President has had as a vision about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law actually hits the streets and gets to places like right here where we are.
Congressman Don Beyer. There you are. It’s great to be in your district. Gerry Connolly, thank you for your leadership — a neighboring district. He said, “I’m going to kind of try and own this district too.” (Laughs.) But it’s great to be with both of you because I definitely do see you in the halls of Congress working every day for the people of this beautiful state. So thank you both for your leadership.
And, of course, the National Education Association President, Becky Pringle. (Applause.) Thank you for your leadership.
And to all the teachers — just such noble and important work that you do. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
It’s not in my notes, but I’ll tell you, just on a personal level: My first grade teacher, Mrs. Frances Wilson — God rest her soul — attended my law school graduation. I love our teachers. I love our teachers. (Applause.) I love our teachers.
So to everyone here, including all the local elected officials, thank you.
And, of course, we should acknowledge all the folks who are here who work so hard to make the students of our nation thrive. And, again, as I mentioned, it’s the teachers, it’s the administrators, it’s the staff members, it’s the bus drivers — (applause) — it’s the folks who work in the cafeteria, it’s the counselors. It’s the — it’s everyone who is part of this incredible ecosystem of education.
So we are deeply grateful to all of you.
I know we have a number of students today as well. Can I — let’s see all the students who are here. There — (applause) — (laughs) — there we are.
So, congratulations to you and your classmates on getting close to finishing up the school year. You made it. (Laughter.)
So the President and I, and many of the adults gathered here — well, we are working hard, all of us, together, to make sure that every one of the children in our nation — all of these students — that they have the opportunity, that they have the resources to live up to their extraordinary potential. And we know the potential is there. The question for us as leaders and the adults is whether we are putting the resources and the priorities into allowing our children to thrive.
And so I think about this subject of our yellow school buses in that regard. Because think about it: Yellow school buses are our nation’s largest form of mass transit. How about that? (Applause.) Every day — so, yes, and let’s applaud, because it’s gets them where they need to go. (Laughs.)
And every day then — think about this in terms of the numbers — every day in our country, more than 25 million children ride to and from school on our nation’s fleet of school buses. Every day. And 95 percent of our nearly 500,000 school buses — now here’s the point — run on diesel fuel.
Diesel exhaust is a poison. Breathing diesel fumes can cause headaches and nausea. It can worsen asthma and chronic bronchitis. It can even elevate the risk of cancer.
If your child rides the bus half an hour to school and half an hour back every day from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation, they will experience the equivalent of 90 full days of exposure to diesel exhaust.
And these fumes do not just threaten the health of our children; they also threaten the future of our planet.
Diesel exhaust is a greenhouse gas. And every year, our nation’s fleet of school buses adds millions of tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.
Yet, for far too long, the danger posed by diesel school buses to our planet and to our children has not received the attention it deserves. And that is why your voices — all of you here — why your voices have been so important.
Because here today, we have a number of activists and advocates, including many parents, who have spoken out about this problem for years — at school board meetings, at congressional hearings, at cookouts and block parties. And you have demanded action. You have demanded a solution. Electric school buses is a big part of that.
Because, you see, electric buses, they don’t produce tailpipe emissions. What’s the point there? Well, tailpipe emissions irritate the nose and eyes, they increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, and accelerate our climate crisis.
And this afternoon, we had, many of us — the administrator and a number of us — the opportunity to be inside of a — an electric school bus. And it was fantastic.
The press actually rode on an electric school bus, just so you know. So I think they got the real inside feeling for what this means. Right?
And so, what we all experienced is, on an electric school bus, on an electric bus: no exhaust. No diesel smell. I just met a young leader, V, who was talking about everything that she can smell and what she knows, in terms of the smell of pollution. And you know how you usually have to raise your voice to be heard when you’re on an idling bus? This bus ran quiet.
Now, I’ve spoken to a number of drivers, for example, who have recently switched to electric buses. And they stressed the importance of a quiet engine, which is much bigger than just you can have a conversation and hear each other; it helps the drivers hear the road, which, of course, helps keep our children safer.
Electric school buses are also safer for our children’s health and a more sustainable planet. And electric school bus manufacturing creates good jobs here in America. That is why, for years, I have fought to invest in electric buses.
And as a United States senator, I introduced the first bill to invest exclusively in zero-emission school buses. We called it the Clean School Bus Act. (Applause.) With a lot of moms.
And as Vice President, I’ve worked closely with our partners in Congress — these two congressmen in particular — during the drafting of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make sure that our nation prioritizes this work as what we know is connected to the health and wellbeing of our children, their education, and also, what we can do to see the future in terms of innovation and manufacturing right here in the United States.
And so, today, as you’ve heard from the Administrator, we are announcing $500 million in clean bus funding to go to schools across the country.
Starting today, every school district in our nation can apply for funding to purchase clean buses and to build the charging infrastructure that we need to build across our country.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. (Laughs.) (Applause.)
So, this funding is just the first part of the $5 billion we will invest in clean school buses over the next five years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Five billion dollars in five years.
This investment, we believe, will be transformative for so many people.
Transformative for the parents of children with asthma and other respiratory illnesses who will soon be able to walk their child to the bus stop without worrying that the diesel fumes could trigger an asthma attack. For those of us who have had to take a child to the emergency room because of asthma, we know what that fear feels like, what it means.
Transformative for the teachers working bus duty who will no longer have to stand in a cloud of exhaust while they’re saying goodbye to their students.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mm-hmm.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mm-hmm. (Laughter.) I heard the teachers. (Laughs.)
Transformative for the school districts that will be able to use the money that they would have had to spend filling up the buses with gas to instead hire more teachers, to raise salaries — (applause) — or to renovate classrooms — and renovate those classrooms not at this school, but at many schools around the country that are in desperate need of repair.
And this investment will be transformative also for the workers of our nation. It will create good-paying jobs in communities across our nation.
You know, today, already, thousands of American workers are doing this work. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s the work of building the frames and the batteries and the tires for these buses. Highly skilled work, highly trained individuals doing this work right here at home.
In fact, last year, I visited the Thomas Built Buses factory in North Carolina and talked with members of United Auto Workers Local 52-87, who built the bus that I just was on. I toured their factory floor and spoke to electricians and engineers and machinists and mechanics.
And we talked about what we’re all talking about right now: Electric school buses, and electric vehicles in general, are the future.
You know, I’ve been — among the many things that I do as Vice President — meeting with world leaders. I was just, earlier today, on a call with President Macron of France. Earlier this week, I was in the United Arab Emirates. The President and I just hosted the President of Finland and the Prime Minister of Sweden.
One of the things that we talk about often, with pride about who are as America, is we really do think about the future and how can we be smart in investing in the future.
And one of the things that I love about this issue and what you all are doing here in this community is it is about an investment in the future, knowing, one, that when we invest in our children, we’re investing in the future; and when we invest in innovation, when we invest in the future of America’s workforce, when we invest in building the skills of America’s workforce, we are investing in the future.
These things are all connected. But the future is not inevitable. We have to build it together. We have to do this together.
And so let us continue to do what we are doing and, on this very subject, create a future in which every school bus in our nation is zero-emission.
I know that we all know this will be a safer and a healthier future for every child in every community.
So, thank you all again for what you have done and what you will continue to do.
May God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you all. (Applause.)
END 3:38 P.M. EDT