Characterized as “uncommonly bipartisan,” the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package over eight years that includes $5 billion for electric and low-emissions school buses. It must still pass the House, where Democrat leaders said the success of H.R. 3684 hinges on the passage of an additional $3.5 trillion social policy bill this fall.
But the Senate passed its version Tuesday by a vote of 69 to 30, securing two more votes from when members greenlit the initial package for a floor debate on July 28.
At that time, President Joe Biden called the deal that provides $550 billion in new funding “the most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.”
The legislation also includes the Senate’s five-year surface transportation reauthorization.
But a spokesperson for the American Lung Association said in a statement Tuesday that the legislation “falls far short of what is needed to protect lung health.” For example, it wants $20 billion for electric school buses.
The Senate bill includes $5 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean school bus program, or $1 billion each fiscal year from 2022 through 2026. The competitive grant program would award $500 million each year for electric school buses, with “low-emissions” biofuels, CNG, LNG, and propane competing for the remaining $500 million.
The propane industry is “cautiously optimistic,” Stephen Kaminsky, president and CEO of the National Propane Gas Association, told School Transportation News last month on the inclusion of other alternative fuels.
The funds would cover up to 100 percent of the cost of a new EV or alternative-fuel bus. Priority would be given to rural and low-income communities as well as agencies that can contribute matching funds.
Also included is $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
A source familiar with the negotiations said a larger $3.5 trillion Democrat budget reconciliation bill could include $20 billion to $25 billion for electric school buses. That would require all 50 Democrat senators to vote for it and Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tiebreaker, to overcome the 60 votes normally necessary to approve the legislation. But reportedly at least a couple of Democrats have voiced opposition to such a large spending bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called the bipartisan Senate passage “progress” but noted that a final infrastructure bill passed through the reconciliation process would still likely include more provisions. The Democrats want $2.3 trillion in infrastructure spending.
Meanwhile, the Senate infrastructure bill also includes $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail; and $39 billion for public transit; $65 billion for broadband; $17 billion for ports and waterways; and $46 billion to help states and cities plan or droughts, wildfires and flooding that occur as a result of climate change.
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