EPA commits $1 billion to electric and low-emission school buses

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For decades, American children have been riding to school in buses that emit pollution, diesel fuel that has been linked to asthma and other illnesses.

If the Biden administration has its way, the humble yellow school bus could soon play a key role in the green energy transition sweeping the nation.

On Monday, the administration announced nearly $1 billion for school districts to replace diesel buses with cleaner versions, including electric buses. The grant aims to protect children from harmful air pollution while curbing greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

This funding comes from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021, which authorized a total of $5 billion for cleaner school buses.environmental protection agency We will provide grants to make this possible. 280 school districts serving more than 7 million students across the country purchased more than 2,700 clean buses. Overall, officials have already allocated nearly $2 billion of the $5 billion.

“Zero-emission school buses can and will someday become the norm in the United States,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said on a call with reporters Monday. We are stepping on the gas toward a healthy future.”

School districts in low-income, rural and tribal areas account for about 86% of grant recipients, according to the EPA. Mr. Reagan announced the funding Monday during a visit to Stone Mountain Middle School in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta that suffers from air pollution.

Environmentalists and public health advocates praised the clean school bus program, saying it would benefit the children who rely on school buses the most: students of color and children from low-income families. There is. Studies have found that chronic exposure to diesel exhaust fumes is associated with increased rates of childhood asthma and childhood cancer, and may lead to poorer academic performance.

But the transition to electric buses has been difficult for some school districts, especially those with large numbers of such vehicles.

A recent report by the EPA’s internal watchdog found that school districts are not having trouble purchasing electric school buses, but are having trouble charging them. Buses consume huge amounts of electricity from the grid. That’s a concern for districts that receive enough federal funding to buy 20 to 25 buses but don’t have the infrastructure to power that much.

Utilities interviewed by EPA’s inspector general said delays are caused by: There is a shortage of high-voltage transformers and additional power lines need to be installed. One company said construction could take nine months to two years to complete.

“Increased demand on electric utilities may impact the timeliness of diesel bus replacement,” the EPA inspector general concluded, urging school districts to increase collaboration with local electric utilities. .

Some local school districts have also found that electric buses cannot cover long distances between schools and students’ homes in areas where charging stations are lacking. The Los Angeles Times reports that in some rural areas of northern California, diesel buses continue to operate while new electric buses are put on hold.

“A bright, beautiful, shiny school bus is something everyone sees and grabs attention, but it’s the infrastructure that makes it work,” says the school transportation agency, which received a conditional grant from the EPA for 375 electric buses. said Kevin Matthews, director of electrification at First Student.

“Before applying for electric school bus funding, you should talk to your utility company to see what your options are,” Matthews says.

Regardless of federal action, several states are moving forward with plans to phase out diesel buses. In 2021, Maryland passed a law requiring all newly purchased school buses to be electric by 2025. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed a similar bill in October. Requirements to take effect in 2035.

In New York state, school districts will be prohibited from purchasing diesel-fueled school buses starting in 2027, but the transition to electric buses was a “key topic of discussion” at a recent meeting of local school superintendents, the National Education Agency said. said Executive Director Allen Pratt. Rural Education Association. He said most provinces are proceeding cautiously, testing one or two buses before transitioning their fleets. Some are already facing problems.

“In some cases, your utility company or your co-op will say they can’t provide you with what you need,” Pratt said of power shortages. Cities, communities and towns need to come up with infrastructure changes to make this effort successful, he added.

Some Republican officials oppose these plans, saying they are too expensive for school districts, even with federal funding and additional state funding. In New York, Republican state senators last week called on Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to waive mandates for school districts to purchase only electric buses by 2027 and eliminate fossil fuel-powered buses by 2035. Ta.

In a letter to Hochul, the senators said electric school buses cost between $400,000 and $450,000, three times the cost of traditional diesel buses. They warned that the district would pass these “catastrophic” costs onto New York state taxpayers, who already pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Proponents of electric buses counter that they are much cheaper to operate and will save school districts money in the long run. Bluebird, a major school bus manufacturer, says it costs on average about 14 cents per mile to charge a bus with electricity, compared to 49 cents per mile for diesel fuel.

Additionally, electric buses can act as giant batteries, storing excess power when not in use. That means school districts can make money by selling power back to the grid during peak demand periods.

“When school buses aren’t being used a lot, like during the day or in the summer, they can be used as batteries,” said Katherine Garcia, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign. “This new technology is really beneficial to the community.”

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