Millions to fund electric school bus initiative

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Virginia is going to dedicate several million dollars to fund a new initiative aimed at accelerating the deployment of electric school buses across the Commonwealth.

Governor Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that Virginia will put $20 million from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust into the initiative while attending a Climate Week NYC event.

According to a release, public school divisions across Virginia can apply for funding from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality through a competitive application process that will be administered in partnership with the state Department of Education. This will begin early next year.

The initiative will prioritize electric school buses while also setting aside a small reserve for propane buses.

“School buses are the safest way to transport students to and from school, but as a pediatric doctor, I know the harmful effects of diesel-powered buses on our children's health,” said Northam. “This initiative represents a significant investment in the electrification of our transportation system, in our efforts to address the climate crisis, and in an environment that allows Virginia children to learn, grow and thrive.”

The release says nearly all school buses in Virginia currently run on diesel, with about 3,500 of them being older than ten years.

There are also more than 500 buses in operation that use engines that were built prior to the first Environmental Protection Agency diesel standards.

The release says replacing 75 buses with all-electric school buses will result in a lifetime savings of 670,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide, about 41,000 pounds of particulate matter population, and 36 million pounds of greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions.

It adds this would be equivalent to taking 3,500 cars from the road or saving 1.6 million gallons of diesel.

Public school divisions may be able to be reimbursed for up to $265,000 for the purchase of an all-electric school bus, including the infrastructure to charge and operate it.

Divisions may also be able to be reimbursed up to $20,000 for the purchase of a propane bus as long as that bus is replacing a bus from model year 1997 or older and the application for reimbursement includes justification for why an electric bus is not a feasible replacement.

The release says electric buses that are purchased through this program must have a minimum range of 100 miles.

Applications will also be considered based on priority for electric buses, the amount o reimbursement requested per bus, the age of the buses being replaced, the current mileage of the buses being replaced, and the percentage of students in the division who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Awards from the program will b made until the funds are exhausted and through on or several funding cycles if necessary.

“Transportation pollution is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “Additionally, diesel exhaust poses significant health risks associated with both pulmonary and cardiovascular issues. Transitioning bus fleets from diesel to electric is a critically important step toward cleaner air, reducing carbon pollution, and helping Virginia meet our environmental goals.”

The release says this is the third announcement of funding the Commonwealth has allocated from the Volkswagen settlement.

The DEQ is the designated lead agency that is acting on the state's behalf to distribute the Commonwealth's share of the $93.6 million from the settlement.

Last year, Northam announced about $14 million in funding to develop the Commonwealth's electric vehicle charging network and another $14 million to fund the deployment of electric transit buses.

For more information on the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, click on the link in the Related Links box.

The trust was created through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice following the emissions scandal involving Volkswagen's use of devices to defeat emissions testing.

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