The next big move on climate change and health? Electric buses

The first Proterra electric bus was built at the manufacturing plant in Walnut in 2017.
The first Proterra electric bus was built at the manufacturing plant in Walnut in 2017. TNS

California’s climate and public health kryptonite is our addiction to cars, buses and trucks that burn fossil fuels. The California Air Resources Board has the opportunity to deploy our anti-kryptonite — electric buses.

On Sept. 28, the board will discuss a proposed rule requiring California transit agencies to phase in zero-emission electric buses over the next two decades, with the goal of a statewide zero-emission bus fleet. That means as many as 11,000 electric transit buses by 2040.


While our state is taking urgent action on climate change and has met its 2020 goals early, even as the federal government schemes to reverse our progress, on transportation pollution and air quality we still fall short. In 2016, a two percent increase in emissions from cars and trucks was matched with increases in unhealthy ozone levels in eight cities.

Electric buses, unlike diesel and natural gas buses, do not emit any health- or climate-harming pollution from tailpipes. For residents in the Central Valley and Los Angeles who live with some of the nation’s worst air quality, this is a chance to breathe easier.

Advancing this new regulation also means replacing fleets of buses that emit diesel exhaust, which California lists as a toxic air contaminant, meaning that long-term exposure is associated with ailments ranging from asthma to premature death.

Adrian Martinez.jpg
Adrian Martinez

If adopted, it will be the first major regulation in the U.S. to apply proven zero-emissions technology to heavy-duty vehicles, but hopefully not the last. A shift to all-electric buses in California could serve as a model for other states, countries and industries.

Cleaner bus technologies have long transferred to other vehicles like trucks, among the largest sources of air pollution in California. Electric trucks and buses will mean cleaner air for communities living near warehouses, ports and major highways. And as California pursues 100 percent clean energy generation by 2045, the benefits of electric vehicles will only grow.

We urge the Air Resources Board to pass a strong clean transit rule to help counter the Trump administration’s dirty energy and transportation agenda.

Adrian Martinez is a staff attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit advocacy group based in San Francisco. He can be contacted at


The Sacramento Bee editorial board tackles the day’s biggest issues seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep you informed about California policy and politics.
We're a one-stop shop for timely, relevant viewpoints from elected officials and advocates on water, healthcare and housing and more.
Want to stay in the conversation? Support this forum for voices from across the state with a digital subscription to The Sacramento Bee.