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EPA grants to help electrify school buses

 Officials posing in front of a new electric school bus in Saratoga Springs
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Officials posing in front of a new electric school bus in Saratoga Springs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to replace diesel-powered school buses with zero-emissions electric vehicles. To help pay for the transition, the is agency offering grants to school districts.

At the Leonard Bus Company’s repair and show facility in Saratoga Springs, driver Kodie Shamrock shows off a new all-electric IC bus. While these state-of-the-art vehicles visually resemble typical yellow school buses, they couldn’t sound more different. But Shamrock says that doesn’t mean they’re any weaker than their diesel or gas-powered equivalents.

“More or less it’s the same, it’s just you’d have to—normally you associate noise with power and in this case you don’t have the sound to give you a sense of how much power you’re putting in. I’ve driven plenty of diesel buses and you just put your foot to the floor, quite literally, because of the power you need to take off. I mean it’s just about—”

“What would happen if you put your foot to the floor in this?”

“Um you’d probably knock some people over [laughs]. You don’t want to do that, they’re a little torque-ey.”

The EPA is offering federal funding for school districts across the country to make the switch to electric buses. The agency has a goal of replacing diesel buses nationwide by 2035. Joining officials at the demonstration, EPA Region 2 Administrator Lisa Garcia said more than $6 million in federal funding will pay for 17 electric buses in six school districts across New York.

“And so, this program in particular is a great one, because we're tackling diesel school buses that carry our future, our children. And so, it's really, like I said before, it's a win-win, and that we're reducing emissions, reducing emissions in the cabin, as the kids are riding outside of the bus as they're waiting for kids or idling for kids waiting for kids to get on. And so it's really a win-win and tackling the climate crisis protecting our children at the same time.”

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Doreen Harris says the state shares the Biden Administration’s goal of replacing diesel-powered buses. She said New York’s climate law requires that at least 35 percent of the benefits associated with climate investments impact economically disadvantaged communities.

“And in fact, we see that mirrored largely in the federal context with what is called the Justice 40 effort there. All that to say is we are collectively recognizing we can't always do what we always did, if we expect a different outcome. And so we are very deliberate in directing our investments to disadvantaged communities across our state.”

This first round of the Clean School Bus Rebate Program grants awarded the Chatham School District with the funds to buy six zero-emission buses. Joshua Loeffler is the district’s transportation supervisor.

“Well, we're actually going to be phasing out some of our buses, we have a series of buses that we are under the under the grant, we could trade in, for a bus per bus kind of deal, something that meets a certain age range, certain mileage or certain criteria we had to meet. So this will actually help with our, with our fleet significantly.”

Applications are currently being accepted for a second round of an additional $400 million in funding.