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Districts are adopting electric buses amid concerns about air quality

For several years, the Miami-Dade County Public School had toyed replacing some of its 1,000 diesel buses with cleaner electric cars. But school leaders said the change would be too expensive.

A 12-year-old student, Holly Thorpe, then returned to attend the school board to promote the benefits of using electricity and encourage the district to apply for a state grant.

Two years later, Wednesday’s school board approved a district plan to use state funds to replace up to 50 diesel buses with electric models in the coming years.

Thorpe is delighted that the district is switching. “It wasn’t imaginable anymore,” she said. “It wasn’t just an idea. It was alive.”

This transition is part of a small but growing movement led by parents, students and lawmakers who buy electric school buses to improve student health and reduce global warming carbon dioxide emissions. It is a department.

About 25 million children get on the school bus every year. In addition, only about 1% of the 480,000 school buses in the United States use electricity, but there are signs that the movement to abolish diesel buses is gaining momentum.

— At the end of last year, the World Resources Institute announced a $ 37.5 million Bezos Earth Fund grant to support the electrification of all school buses in the country by 2030. Nonprofits will work on projects with school districts, communities and environmental justice groups over the next five years. , Utilities, bus makers, policy makers.

— This year, the suburbs of Maryland have become the largest district in the country that promises to use full electricity. We plan to replace 1,442 diesel buses by 2035. The first 326 electric buses will be leased from Massachusetts-based Highland Electric Transportation.

— California, the country’s leader in electric school buses, has funded 1,167 purchases and has budgeted an additional 1,000 in the next three fiscal years.

“This is an opportunity to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the health of our children,” said Patty Monaghan, a member of the California Energy Commission. “Some of these kids who live in parts of Los Angeles are on the bus for two or an hour a day, so I want to make sure they’re breathing clean air.”

In the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Northern California, diesel buses have been replaced by 40 electric buses and 34 electric buses running on compressed natural gas, officials say the dirty air clouds have disappeared.

“One of the drivers said,’I can’t believe the changes I’ve seen in my life,'” said Tim Shannon, director of transportation services in the district. “Because of the thick diesel soot, I had to hold my handkerchief over my face to walk in the garden,” he said.

According to Shannon, electric bus fare is 60% cheaper and will incur costs over time.

Some districts plan to sell the surplus energy from the batteries back to the grid. This is a welcome move by utilities who have launched a program to buy electric school buses.School bus this summer Massachusetts The district has returned power to the grid.

Efforts to replace diesel school buses are driven by the fact that children are susceptible to the health effects of air pollution.Exposure to diesel exhaust, according to EPA Especially in children and the elderly, it can cause asthma and respiratory illness and exacerbate heart and lung illness.

According to a Washington school bus study, using cleaner fuels and upgrading older diesels reduced children’s exposure to airborne particles by as much as 50% and improved their health. Their findings suggest that a nationwide switch to cleaner school buses could reduce the absenteeism of about 14 million people each year. Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan did not investigate electric buses, which are less polluting in the area than buses that use fossil fuels.

The old diesel bus “causes high levels of air pollution during commuting” to children in the Seattle area, said Sarah Adar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

“The pollutants that those children were experiencing also seemed to be associated with poor health,” she said. “It turns out that the lungs of a child are not very healthy.”

Diesel school bus engines are much cleaner because EPA has implemented a standard that requires a 90% reduction in particulate matter production. The EPA also announced that it has awarded $ 55 million to replace more than 2,700 old diesel school buses since 2012, with an additional $ 17 million available in October.

With improved standards, the diesel industry claims that switching to electricity will not significantly reduce emissions or address global warming concerns. In particular, bus electricity is still often sourced from fossil fuels. They say that more than 54% of school buses are new models with much lower emissions.

“School districts should be able to choose the bus type and technology that suits them,” said Allen Schaefer, Managing Director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “Some people find electric buses suitable, while others stick to diesel and use low-carbon renewable fuels to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions.”

Proponents point out that almost half of diesel buses are old buses that produce dangerous pollutants and are much more expensive to maintain. However, they acknowledge that the challenge is to move the old districts to electric buses with bus funding. Electric buses often cost three times as much.

Many districts are looking to fund funding from several legislations in Congress.

Nearly $ 1 trillion in infrastructure bills include $ 5 billion in electricity and hybrid school buses. Democratic US Senator. Patimalay Former preschool teachers and other supporters chairing the Senate Committee on Health, Educational Labor and Pensions want an additional $ 5 billion in the president’s electric school bus Joe Biden ■ $ 3.5 trillion reconstruction plan.

Some parliamentary bills will provide billions more to electric school buses.

Several states, including Florida and Virginia, are buying electric buses for billions of dollars from Volkswagen Resolving the fraudulent scandal of its diesel emissions.

Miami-Dade coach Alberto Carvalho said the district would spend $ 11.6 million from the settlement to start buying electric buses, but said a full transition would not be possible without federal support. ..

“If we, as a country, prioritize environmental protection, greenhouse gas reductions, and maximization of new technologies that reduce our dependence on carbon fuels, federal investment must encourage these transitions with real money. No, “he said. “And that’s what our country needs. That’s what Miami needs.”

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Follow Michael Casey on Twitter: @ mcasey1

Districts are adopting electric buses amid concerns about air quality

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