Biden administration reveals plan to make electric school buses a reality

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A new EV school bus from an all-electric fleet is parked next to charging stations at South El Monte High School on August 18, 2021 in El Monte, California.

A new EV school A bus from an all-electric fleet is parked next to charging stations at South El Monte High School on August 18, 2021 in El Monte, California.
Picture: Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)

The Biden administration wants to make that noxious plume of smoke billowing out of your neighborhood school bus exhaust a thing of the past, and it’s ready to pump in the cash to do just that.

In a fact sheet published On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris revealed federal plans to distribute billions in funds — mostly from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure package — to reduce emissions from buses and a host of other heavy-polluting vehicles that currently underpin American public transportation.

For school buses, the administration says it plans to award $17 million in funds to the Environmental Protection Agency to fund zero- and low-emission school buses. Another $7 million from the US bailout will be used to replace old diesel school buses with new electric versions. The administration will also use $10 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funds to replace diesel school buses with “cleaner” but not necessarily electric alternatives.

“Our transportation industry has reached a turning point,” Harris said during a press conference. “These grants will make public transit more reliable and affordable, which means shorter wait times and more reliable journeys for people who need to use public transit to get where they need to go.” The Vice President also said that these investments will create good jobs.

Harris was joined on stage by a Washington DC-based bus driver who claimed he had driven newer electric buses and noticed improvements for himself and passengers.

“Electric buses are more fuel efficient, better for the environment and more comfortable,” the driver said. “I’ve also heard comments from passengers that electric buses don’t trigger their asthma symptoms as much.”

The much larger piece funds (approximately $1.1 billion for 2022) will go to a Department of Transportation program to provide transit agencies and states with funds to purchase or lease low-emission transit buses across the country. Again, while these buses may reduce emissions compared to the status quo gluttons, they are not necessarily all-electric. According to the administration, these new buses will be built and manufactured in the United States. Meanwhile, about 5% of the grants awarded under this new program will go towards training the workforce to learn how to use and maintain these new vehicles.

In addition to all those funds, Harris said a tough new set of emissions standards being finalized by the EPA could also help push public transit in a cleaner direction. If approved, these new rules would set stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards for buses and other heavy-duty vehicles that would account for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gases attributed to U.S. transportation. This is potentially significant, given the EPA estimates show that transport accounts for more (29%) greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector. In total, the administration says a complete shift to zero emissions in the nation’s heavy truck fleet could prevent 2,000 deaths a year and eliminate 18,000 cases of asthma.

“These grants will help build a better America by sending a signal to industry and communities that low- and zero-emission vehicles are the future,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said during the press conference.

    In front of an LAUSD Sup electric school bus.  Austin Beutner speaks during a press conference with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Tony Cárdenas along with other officials on transitioning the U.S. school bus fleet to electric buses.

In front of an LAUSD Sup electric school bus. Austin Beutner speaks during a press conference with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Tony Cárdenas along with other officials on America’s transition.school bus fleet to electric buses.
Picture: MediaNews Group / Los Angeles Daily News (Getty Images)

If successful, the move away from gas-powered school buses and other public sector heavy trucks would go a long way toward achieving the Biden administration’s goals. goal to have all federal agencies purchase 100% zero-emission vehicles for the federal fleet by 2035. Stack that on top of the rest of the administration goal ensure that at least half of all new cars sold in the United States are electric by 2030 and you could start to see real, meaningful progress in reducing emissions.

Of course, this is where we come to the “but. While it’s important to allocate funds and set timelines, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that an individual agency or state will actually approach electrification with the same enthusiasm as the federal government. This became clear this year with the US Postal Service, which chose to to replace the overwhelming majority of its aging fleet of postal trucks with crappy, gas-guzzling wrecks instead of available electric alternatives. The USPS’ final 90/10 split from gasoline to electric vehicles came despite ofseparate pleas from the EPA and pro-EV lawmakers.

Still, Harris, Reagan and other regulators who pushed the program on Monday said they felt optimistic and celebrated what they see as real-time history.

“My friends, this is a historic moment for the transportation industry,” Regan said.[These proposals] are just the first steps on the road to a zero-emissions future.

And hey, given America’s long history of outright ignoring climate proposals, getting the ball rolling may well justify breaking out a few glasses of champagne.

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