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More Federal Funds Aimed at Zero-Emissions School Buses

Four Democrats in Congress are seeking to increase the potential investment in electrifying the nation’s fleet of school buses.

The joint House and Senate “Clean Commute for Kids Act” — introduced Wednesday by Reps. Tony Cardenas of California and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Sens. Alex Padilla of California and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia — seeks $25 billion over the next 10 years to replace older diesel buses with zero-emissions buses.

As they pertain to school buses, zero-emissions currently refers specifically to battery-electric technology. But fuels like renewable propane, especially when mixed with additives like dimethyl ether (DME) could eventually qualify. ROUSH CleanTech, which builds the propane system for Blue Bird and Micro Bird school buses, is currently testing the viability of DME blended with propane or renewable propane to reduce the carbon index to at least zero.

Meanwhile, the grants would cover up to 100 percent of the replacement cost, including acquisition and labor costs for charging infrastructure, workforce development training, and planning and technical activity costs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would administer the program, assisted by the U.S. Department of Energy, and would be required to develop outreach programs to assist school districts in transitioning their fleets. Forty percent of the funding prioritized for “environmental justice communities.” The EPA

The EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California noted in its 2016 socioeconomic analysis of its air quality management plan achievement of environmental justice gains hinges on policymakers considering not only how regulations will impact average exposures across a population but also how they will impact the distribution of exposures in the affected population.

Related: Transportation Expert Outlines Unprecedented Federal Green School Bus Funding Opportunities
Related: House Bill Seeks $650M for Zero-Emissions School Buses
Related: New Jersey Governor Announces $13M for Electric School Buses

Cardenas was appointed to the senate seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris. In February, he and Hayes reintroduced Harris’ “Clean School Bus Act.” It establishes a $1 billion grant program over five years to replace diesel buses operating in lower-income areas with electric buses. That program also would invest in charging infrastructure and workforce development.

A companion bill is in the Senate.

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