The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kicked off the new year by announcing $1 billion in grants to transition school bus fleets away from diesel to electric and low-emission vehicles. The move comes as diesel emissions have been linked to high rates of asthma, cancer, and school absenteeism. The funds will be disbursed to 280 school districts serving 7 million children, 86 percent of which serve low-income, rural, and tribal communities, which are more likely to suffer from higher rates of air pollution, writes Betsy Reed of the Guardian US.
“The new funds mean so far nearly $2bn has been awarded to add about 5,000 clean buses to schools across the country. The program draws from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law that carved out $5bn to equip schools with clean buses over five years, and is part of a broader federal strategy that aims to spend 40% of investments in environmental justice communities,” Reed reports.
The transition away from diesel isn’t something most school districts can afford without state or federal assistance. High upfront costs of electric buses and the cost of installing charging infrastructure are prohibitive for many. A full-size electric bus costs three to four times as much as a diesel version.
Republican senators from New York expressed as much in recent pushback against a new state mandate banning the purchase of diesel buses starting in 2027. The state awarded $100,000 in grants to assist with electric school bus purchases, but the senators say that’s nowhere near enough.
“With 45,000 school buses in the state, full conversion by 2035 will cost approximately $20 billion. The cost over and above what school districts already pay for replacement buses is projected at between $8 billion and $15 billion statewide. These totals don’t even include the required infrastructure upgrades including installation of charging stations, electrical improvements, bus garage renovations and so on,” they wrote in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul last month. They called on the governor to rescind the mandate or commit to fully funding the conversion.