Roz Brown, Public News Service – NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One in 11 New Mexico children suffers from asthma, and a state advocacy group says that’s a big reason the state should spend its windfall from the Volkswagen emissions scandal payout to outfit school districts with zero-emission electric buses.

The comment period has opened for residents to have a say in how the state spends $18 million – its share of the VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund spokeswoman Liliana Castillo said opting for cleaner school buses should be a top priority.

“By using this opportunity to transition diesel buses to zero-emissions electric buses, we’re really setting up current kids today and future generations of kid to have a higher quality of life and reduce asthma rates,” Castillo said.

The German carmaker was fined a total of $2.7 billion for cheating on federal emission laws and causing environmental harm. Comments on how New Mexico should use the VW money are being accepted through May 14 at vw.info@state.nm.us

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, 47,000 children in the state suffer from asthma. Castillo said certain neighborhoods, particularly in Albuquerque, are disproportionately affected by poor air quality because of their proximity to lots where school districts park their buses.

“There’s hundreds of buses idling next to homes for hours every single week,” she said. “And so the families that live near these sites are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality – specifically diesel emissions in this example.”

In the draft plan, the state’s environmental department argues that electric school buses are not a cost-efficient use of settlement funds. Other projects eligible include freight trucks, transit buses, forklifts and electric- or hydrogen-vehicle charging stations.