Morning Brew - ☕ The batteries on the bus

Electric school buses and the clean-energy transition.
May 22, 2024

Tech Brew

Kickbox

It’s Wednesday. School-bus fleets are the largest form of mass transportation in the US, so it stands to reason that electrifying them would aid the clean-energy transition. But there’s another benefit: cleaner air for kids. Tech Brew’s Jordyn Grzelewski has the details.

In today’s edition:

Jordyn Grzelewski, Patrick Kulp, Annie Saunders

FUTURE OF TRAVEL

On the bus

Oakland Unified School District's electric school buses plugged into chargers. Zum

With over 20 million daily riders, the US school bus system is the country’s largest form of mass transportation—and therefore stands to play a major role in the clean-energy transition.

That was the consensus during a May 15 panel on the benefits of electric school buses hosted by the Zero Emission Transportation Association.

“The most significant benefit that we see for electric school buses is the benefit for children to breathe cleaner air,” Carolina Chacon Mendonza, coalition manager for the Alliance for Electric School Buses, said on the panel. “There is no amount of exposure to diesel pollution that is safe for children.”

“Black students, children with disabilities, children from tribal nations, and low-income students rely on diesel school buses more than their peers,” reflecting a disparity in who is exposed to the vehicles’ harmful diesel emissions, according to Sue Gander, director of the Electric School Bus Initiative at the World Resources Institute.

Nearly four out of 10 people in the US live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s latest State of the Air report. And heavy-duty vehicles like school buses contribute a disproportionate amount of this pollution, according to ALA CEO Harold Wimmer.

“Switching to electric school buses, we know, will play a really important role in creating a healthier environment,” he said.

Keep reading here.—JG

   

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FUTURE OF TRAVEL

Unorganized

UAW President Shawn Fain speaks from a podium. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

The United Auto Workers hit a roadblock when workers at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama voted against unionizing last week.

UAW leaders vowed to press on with their bid to organize non-union workers across the automotive industry—and labor experts said that while the Mercedes loss is a setback, it doesn’t have to spoil the broader movement.

“It’s a David-versus-Goliath fight,” UAW President Shawn Fain said during a May 17 news conference after the National Labor Relations Board confirmed that 56% of workers had rejected the union. “Sometimes, Goliath wins the battle, but ultimately David will win the war. These workers will win their fair share.”

Fain accused Mercedes of engaging in “egregious illegal behavior,” which the company has previously denied. It’s been widely reported that Mercedes ran a fierce anti-union campaign, and the UAW’s organizing efforts are facing strong opposition from Republican elected officials like Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.

In a statement, Mercedes said that its “goal throughout this process was to ensure every eligible team member had the opportunity to participate in a fair election.”

The UAW unveiled its organizing campaign after winning record contracts for about 150,000 Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis workers following a historic strike last year. It looks to organize workers at foreign automakers and electric-vehicle makers, including Honda, Hyundai, Rivian, Tesla, and Toyota.

The effort aims in part to secure jobs at EV assembly and battery plants amid concerns about potential job losses during the electric transition.

Keep reading here.—JG

   

AI

Gang, assemble!

Sen. Schumer, Rounds, Young, and Heinrich hold a press conference announcing their AI roadmap. Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

After months of gauging opinions from a range of concerned parties, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has unveiled a new vision for how Congress should tackle AI policy.

The senator, along with three bipartisan colleagues calling themselves the “AI Gang,” announced a roadmap document that calls for $32 billion in annual funding “as soon as possible” to help cement the country’s status as a leader in harnessing the technology. Critics, however, say the document is light on details about regulations that would guard against AI’s worst tendencies.

What it says: The 30-page document lists dozens of legislative priorities with varying levels of specificity, including funding for innovation projects, protecting elections against deepfakes, and addressing AI job displacement.

The recommendations are meant to serve as a guide for individual committees to begin to draft legislation, according to Schumer’s remarks around the announcement.

Why it matters: The new roadmap comes as governments around the world have been considering ways to rein in the ill effects of generative AI while also competing in a geopolitical arms race around the tech.

Keep reading here.—PK

   

TOGETHER WITH NYSE

NYSE

AI 2.0. For their inaugural Tech Summit in San Francisco, the NYSE hosted a powerful group of speakers from companies like Oracle, Coursera, Rubrik, and more. Discussions went beyond current tech trends to conversations about shaping the future of business by using AI within new frameworks. Learn more.

BITS AND BYTES

Stat: 93%. That’s the percentage of bottles of water that were contaminated by microplastics, according to a 2018 study that tested 11 brands in nine countries. Grist noted the statistic in a report about lawsuits against companies that produce bottled water alleging they deceive consumers about what’s in the bottle.

Quote: “I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference.”—Scarlett Johansson, in a statement, on how much the voice of OpenAI’s GPT-4o sounds like her own

Read: The big AI risk not enough people are seeing (The Atlantic)

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