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How the US is rapidly cleaning up its biggest form of mass transit

Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now allocated enough funds to replace more than 5,000 of the country’s school buses with zero-emission alternatives.

Why it matters: America’s current fleet of school buses contributes both to the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and to localised air pollution, which can cause childhood asthma and other health conditions.

“Every school day, 25 million children ride our nation’s largest form of mass transit: the school bus. The vast majority of those buses run on diesel, exposing students, teachers, and bus drivers to toxic air pollution,” vice president Kamala Harris said in a statement.

The latest: In December, the EPA awarded another $965 million to local districts to help them acquire 2,737 electric and other zero-emission school buses, the agency said.

To ensure the buses would be able to operate effectively, the EPA required applicants to engage with their local power utilities before submitting an application.

The agency is drawing on funds set aside in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, and disbursing them in the form of rebates and grants. The “clean school bus” programme will ultimately distribute $5 billion over the five years to 2026.

Including the latest round of awards, the agency has allocated $1.8 billion for the purchase of 5,103 zero-emission school buses across the country.

The programme will ensure cleaner air for students, bus drivers, school staff, and the communities through which the buses drive each day, the EPA said.

“The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from these bus replacements will also help to address the outsized role of the transportation sector in fuelling the climate crisis,” the agency said.

It will also yield cost savings because electric buses are cheaper to operate and maintain, thus “freeing up needed resources for schools.”

Sue Gander, director at the World Resources Institute’s electric school bus initiative, said “the momentum for electric school buses is real”, adding that students “will grow up with a new normal: clean air on their ride to school.”  

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