Several opportunities present themselves for school bus emissions funding, but few are handed to select individual groups to bring projects into fruition. Strengthening candidacy for grant funding is certainly meticulous but possible with the right tools and advisement, especially for a sizeable settlement like Volkswagen's.
School Transportation News hosted an hour-long webinar on June 20 that explored upcoming funding opportunities for school transportation. Joe Annoti, a senior programs manager for Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, discussed Volkswagen’s Environmental Mitigation Trust agreement and its $2.9 billion in grant money to clean vehicle emissions. Anotti also shared his counsel on optimizing funding with grant money.
In all, Volkswagen paid $14.7 billion in penalities for cheating emissions tests for its diesel passenger vehicles. This includes a $10 billion buyback of affected vehicles and lease terminations, a vehicle modification recall program, a $2 billion in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) investment commitment, and $2.9 billion in environmental mitigation trust agreement.
The mitigation trust fund was originally $2.7 billion, but $225 million was added from a partial consent decree to reach the final amount for funding NOx reduction projects. State beneficiaries, whom have yet to be designated, will be responsible for selecting funding for projects.
In assessing the language within the VW’s EMT, Annotti indicated the rhetorical difference between "risks" and "opportunities" for school districts and student transporters. Final projects selected for funding are at each individual state's discretion, and they can allocate the funds to whatever projects they deem worthy.
This can prove problematic for some districts. For example, if school districts seek propane, natural gas or clean diesel, but the state decides to use its EMT grants to only fund electric, then the opportunity becomes a risk for some school transportation operations. Raising awareness not only on district priorities but how specific fuels can reduce emissions is key to securing funding, Annotti said.
“What we have to do now is sell the air quality and benefits," he added. "So calculating your emissions production, figuring out what the potential opportunity your fleet has to demonstrate air quality benefits for the state by converting to propane, natural gas or whatever the case may be will ultimately help influence funding of your fleets. I really encourage you to start coming up with the message around those points.”
States can seek public input to obtain a clear idea of fuel demands, so Annotti recommended that student transporters advocate for their desired fuels, adding that it won't be enough to merely show the projects will benefit students. This means school districts and bus companies need to develop and share data to justify the funds. States will factor in this data when making their funding decisions.
Though VW is a big deal, Annotti emphasized that the opportunity is not an “end-all-be-all.” Other programs like the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act do exist that offer annualized funding, though he shared that DERA could be in the Trump Administration's crosshairs as it attempts to reduce the overall EPA budget.
The hard part, he added, resides in finding and applying for the different grants.
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