A partisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Kamala Harris would authorize $2 million to pay the incremental cost of replacing diesel school buses with new electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.
Harris, a Democratic candidate in the 2020 race for the White House, is spearheading the Clean School Bus Act, which was announced on Thursday. It would also support workforce development, and appropriate $1 billion to the U.S. Department of Energy competitive grant program to “spur adoption” of electric school buses to reduce air pollution.
Funding priority would go to areas that transport low-income students.
A spokeswoman for Harris told School Transportation News that the Clean School Bus Act would fund 110 percent of the incremental cost of purchasing a new electric school bus or charging infrastructure.
The current price of a new electric school bus is in the neighborhood of $350,000, meaning the $2 million grant, alone, would purchase no more than a half dozen of the zero-emissions vehicles. The fleet number would increase to over 2,800 school buses, or about 570 a year nationwide over five years, using another $1 billion in competitive grants that would be available via the U.S. Department of Energy program.
Joining Harris in co-sponsoring the bill are fellow 2020 president candidates Sanders, the senior Democratic senator from Vermont, and Booker of New Jersey. Senators Diane Feinstein of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Cortez Masto of Nevada are additional co-sponsors.
Supporters include the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO), American Lung Association, National Resources Defense Council, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
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CASTO outlined its support for a bill that would fund and replace older polluting buses with near zero or zero emissions, as long as infrastructure was included as a key component of the proposed language.
“We expressed concern in pupil transportation systems not having the funding to support electrification of their fleets, due to budget cuts, high cost of bus purchase, and the high cost in investing in such infrastructure,” explained CASTO President Tony Peregrina. “After several conversations with Sen. Harris’ office staff, CASTO was able to convey concerns, agree on positive forward-thinking legislation, fostering results aiding the pupil transportation industry in replacing old polluting technology, with new, clean and safer technology.”
Peregrina added that CASTO was further buoyed that Harris’ proposed bill drew inspiration from Senate Bill 110, which charges the California Energy Commission with retrofitting or replacing old diesel school buses in disadvantaged and low-income communities throughout the state.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tony Cardenas of California introduced legislation in the House last month to reauthorize the Clean School Bus Program at $50 million a year for 2021 through 2025, with a focus on low- or zero-emissions vehicles. The Clean Commute for Kids Act of 2019 would also eliminate ultra-low sulfur diesel as an eligible replacement fuel.
If passed, the House bill would fund 60 percent of the bus replacement or charging infrastructure cost.
The bill’s language indicates that school districts, private bus contractors, nonprofit school transportation associations, and tribal governments, could all apply for the funds. It also provides no details on the age, mileage or emissions control technologies of the buses to be replaced, other than that they are diesel powered and must be scrapped.
The new electric buses would also need to be manufactured in the U.S., though the act would allow the secretary of transportation to issue a waiver.
HB 2906 was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on May 22.