Fact Check: Biden Claims Diesel Buses ‘Cause Kids to Miss School’

The White House / YouTube

CLAIM: President Joe Biden said “Diesel [from school buses] pollutes the air … and causes our students to miss school.”

VERDICT: PARTLY FALSE. Older diesel engines can cause respiratory problems, but newer ones have far lower risks.

President Joe Biden used an appearance Wednesday in Crystal Lake, Illinois, to tout the “bipartisan” infrastructure deal he reached last month with Republicans — though it is no longer clear the deal is viable, since he also wants to use the Democrats’ control of the Senate to raise taxes and to spend on left-wing programs that Republicans specifically rejected.

Biden repeated a claim he made last month in Wisconsin: that the nation needs electric buses to keep kids in school:

This deal is also going to help our cities, our towns, our school districts deploy electric buses. … [T]here are about 475,000 school buses in this country, 95 percent of them like the ones you had here … Ninety-five percent of them run on diesel. So, every day, more than 25 million kids and thousands of bus drivers breathe polluted air on the way to and from school. Diesel air pollution is linked to asthma and other health problems. It hurts communities. It causes students to get sick and miss time in school.

It is true that older diesel buses expose children to pollutants that can cause some of them to miss school for illness. But Biden’s information may be somewhat out of date.

Diesel technology is constantly improving. Also, under President George W. Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 issued new emissions standards for diesel engines. Portland, Oregon’s Multnomah County has observed:

Diesel school buses that are model year 2007 and newer are 99% clean and virtually eliminate harmful sources of pollution. Even though 68% of school buses in use by east Multnomah County school districts are pre­-2007, these buses can be retrofitted with pollution controls that will reduce pollution levels between 30–95%, depending on the retrofit type.

A study in 2015 by the University of Michigan and the University of Washington found that cleaner diesel fuels and new diesel technologies to reduce emissions also reduced absenteeism:

Children in the districts missed an average of 3.1 school days over nine months but there was an 8 percent lower risk of being absent in the previous month when riding a bus with ultra low sulfur diesel fuel. For those riding a bus that was fitted with a diesel oxidation catalyst, there was a 6 percent reduction in the risk of absenteeism. … Using these and other measurements, the researchers were able to extrapolate a 14 million day reduction in absenteeism for the nation’s bus-riding children if all vehicles were altered to reduce emissions.

Theoretically, the risk to children could be lowered further with electric buses, assuming the electricity is generated by relatively clean energy sources. But most of the gain seems to have been captured already by buses that are “99% clean.”

Is it worth replacing the nation’s entire fleet — half a million diesel school buses — with electric buses, at huge cost, many of which may be manufactured abroad, simply to gain an additional 1% improvement? Or would it be easier to retrofit older buses, and replace them with newer ones, both diesel and electric, as needs and funds arise?

Biden’s comment lacks necessary context — that new diesel buses lower the risk of children missing school — and therefore is partly false.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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