LOS ANGELES — Fourth-graders joined the fight over diesel school buses Monday, donning gas masks and urging state air regulators not to spend millions to buy the vehicles.
About 20 youngsters from Castle Heights Elementary School joined representatives of several environmental groups at a press conference.
“A lot of people are dying every day, breathing in diesel fuel,” 9-year-old Amanda Davis said, explaining why her class decided to demonstrate against diesel buses.
“When I have kids,” 9-year-old Justin Rubinstein said, “I really don’t want them to breathe in diesel gas and really get hurt by asthma or lung cancer.”
A girl held up a drawing of a school bus, with two people coughing behind a knot of black scribbles.
The California Air Resources Board, which meets Thursday in Sacramento, will consider a staff recommendation on how to spend a $50 million state appropriation to reduce school bus pollution.
The most contentious issue has been whether diesel fuel – which runs more than two-thirds of the school buses on California roads – can be reformed enough to keep it viable.
The staff plan would spend $15 million on advanced, cleaner-burning diesel buses. Another $25 million would be spent on natural gas-burning buses and $10 million on retrofitting existing diesel buses with cleaner engines.
Staff members say the proposal is intended to help both urban areas, where the need for pollution controls are most acute, and rural districts, where many of the oldest buses operate and expensive natural gas infrastructure is lacking.
Critics contend diesel is inherently polluting and a particular threat to children.
But Tom Trueblood, spokesman for International Truck and Engine Corp., said the latest diesel technology is much cleaner than engines in vehicles on the road today, and also the cheapest way to reduce emissions.
The only engine that could meet the air board’s proposed standard for diesel school buses is an International model. It is still being tested and has not yet been federally or state certified – meaning it cannot be sold – but the company expects to deliver models by 2002.
Air board spokesman Jerry Martin said buying diesel buses will help rid California of some of the dirtiest and most dangerous school buses on the road.
About 1,900 buses, 12 percent of the total number in the state, were made before 1977 federal safety and emissions standards kicked in.
On the Net:
Air Resources Board: www.arb.ca.gov