The Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been trying to replace some of its 1,000 diesel buses by cleaner, more efficient electric vehicles for several years. However, school leaders said that the switch would prove too expensive.
Holly Thorpe, a 12-year-old student, showed up to a school board meeting to promote the benefits of electric vehicles and then returned to encourage the district’s application for a grant from the state.
The school board approved Wednesday, two years later, a plan for the district to use state funds to replace 50 diesel buses with electrified models in the coming years.
Thorpe is thrilled that the district has made the change. She said, “It wasn’t imaginary anymore.” It was not an idea. It was becoming a reality.”
This is part of a growing movement of parents, students, and legislators to buy electric school buses in order to improve student health and reduce planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Each year, approximately 25 million children ride school busses. Even though electric buses make up only 1% of the 480,000 school buses in America, there are signs that the push to get rid of diesel buses is growing.
The World Resources Institute announced last year a $37.5 million Bezos Earth Fund grant that would help electrify all schools in the country by 2030. Over the next five-years, the nonprofit will collaborate with schools districts, communities and environmental justice groups as well as utilities, bus manufacturers, policymakers, and other stakeholders.
A suburban Maryland municipality became the largest in the country to go completely electric this year. It intends to replace 1,442 diesel buses before 2035. Massachusetts-based Highland Electric Transportation will lease the first 326 electric buses.
California, the nation’s leader in electric school buses, has paid for the purchase of 1,167, and has budgeted for another 1,000 during the next three fiscal year.
Patty Monahan, a member of the California Energy Commission said that “This is an opportunity for us to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect children’s health.” Some of these children in Los Angeles ride the bus for up to two hours per day. We want to ensure that they have clean air. Officials at Twin Rivers Unified Schools District in Northern California say that diesel buses have been replaced with 40 electric buses and 34 buses that run on compressed natural gasoline.
Tim Shannon, director of transportation services in the district, said that one of the drivers stated, “I can’t believe how much change I’m seeing in this lifetime.” He said that he used to have to cover his face with a handkerchief to walk in the yard due to the thick diesel smoke.
Shannon stated that electric buses are 60% less expensive to run and will eventually pay for themselves, over time.
Some localities are considering selling excess energy from their batteries back to the grid. This move is welcomed by utilities, who have also launched programs to purchase electric school buses. A Massachusetts school bus delivered power to the grid this summer.
Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution, so efforts to replace school buses with diesel are made. According to the EPA diesel exhaust can cause asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as worsening heart and lung conditions, particularly in children.
An analysis of school buses in Washington found that children were exposed to more airborne particles when they used cleaner fuels and upgraded older diesel. This also improved their health. The findings indicate that a switch to cleaner school buses nationwide could reduce the number of absences by around 14 million each year. Electric buses produce less pollution than fossil fuel-powered vehicles, but the researchers from Michigan and Washington did not study them.
Sara Adar is an associate professor of epidemiology from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She stated that children living in Seattle were exposed to more air pollution because of older diesel buses.
She said that the pollutants children were exposed to also seemed to be associated with poorer health. “We found that children’s lungs were not as healthy.”
The EPA has set standards for diesel school bus engines that produce 90% less particulate matter. This makes them cleaner. In October 2012, the EPA announced that $55 million was awarded to replace more than 2,700 diesel school buses.
The diesel industry claims that switching to an electric vehicle won’t reduce emissions or address global warming, despite the fact that electricity used for transport is still derived from fossil fuels. They point out that 54% of school buses are older models with lower emissions.
Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of Diesel Technology Forum, stated that school districts should have the option to choose the type and technology of bus they prefer. Some people may prefer electric buses, while others will choose to use diesel or low-carbon renewable fuels in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
Advocates point out the fact that almost half of all diesel buses are older, more polluting vehicles that are also much more costly to maintain. However, they recognize that it is difficult to get funds for older buses to be converted to electric vehicles. These can often cost three times as much.
Many districts want funding from multiple bills in Congress.
The infrastructure bill, which is nearly $1 trillion in value, includes $5 billion for hybrid and electric school buses. Patty Murray, a Democratic U.S. Senator and a former preschool teacher, chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions. She and other advocates are seeking $5 billion for electric school buses as part of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan.
Numerous congressional bills would grant billions more to electric school buses.
Florida and Virginia are among the states that have purchased electric buses from Volkswagen’s settlement for its diesel emissions cheating scandal.
Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade Superintendent, stated that the district will use $11.6million from the settlement for the purchase of electric buses. However, he said that a complete transition without federal assistance would not be possible.
He stated that if we as a nation place environmental protection and the reduction of greenhouse gasses at the top of our priorities, then federal funding must be used to encourage these transitions. That’s what our country requires. This is exactly what Miami requires.