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Bill would fund transition to all-electric school bus fleets

school bus
(© Stuart Monk –

Del. Mark Keam’s legislation designed to convert school buses from diesel to electric by 2031 has the backing of the moms’ climate group Mothers Out Front Fairfax.

House Bill 2118, which was drafted with significant input from MOF, sets up a new grant program that would allow school districts to seek funding to help replace their current diesel school buses with electric ones, as well as expenses for infrastructure support.

It prioritizes buses that are powered by solar allowing for the biggest cuts possible in greenhouse emissions. It also prioritizes grant requests from areas with high asthma rates and poor air quality so they can benefit first.

School buses are the largest mass transit system in the nation, with approximately 480,000 school buses on the roads, compared to about 140,000 public transit buses.

Virginia is home to the second largest school bus fleet in the country. Fairfax County alone has 1,625 buses, and more than 1.5 million Virginia kids ride in 17,000 yellow school buses daily.

“During the early weeks of COVID-19 as schools and businesses shut down, scientists noticed how clear the air quality was over many cities around the world. As people stayed home, traffic-related emissions like carbon and nitrogen dioxide dropped significantly. Imagine if we could have less pollutants in the atmosphere even after our society returns to some level of normal life,” said Keam, a Democratic lawmaker representing Fairfax County in the state legislature.

“Converting diesel school buses to zero-emission electric vehicles will have a measurable positive effect on our children’s health and their future in the face of climate change.”

The effects of diesel fumes on health and climate are well documented. Diesel school bus fumes contain particulate matter that causes asthma, as well as NOx fumes, which are a known carcinogen.

HB2118 gives weight to applicants located in areas that have higher asthma rates and the lowest air quality so that these school districts can benefit first from the improved air quality.

“Our kids’ health and their future cannot wait another year for conversion of these dirty, polluting school buses,” said Julie Kimmel, co-leader of MOF Fairfax. “Diesel fumes are concentrated up to six times more inside a school bus than outside. When I see that big plume of black smoke coming out of the back of a school bus, then imagine that multiplied by six and my child sitting on that bus for over two hours a day, I know this must change. This is hurting our kids’ lungs and their brain development, not to mention their future because it contributes to climate change.”

Switching to electric school buses is essential to our effort to combat climate change. Transportation is the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and accounts for 48 percent of all emissions in Virginia.

“Time is up. The IPCC says we now have nine years to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change, so locking ourselves into the 15-year lifespan of a diesel bus is insane,” said Bobby Monacella, co-leader of MOF Fairfax.

“Virginia school districts need the ability to apply for money to pay the difference between a diesel school bus and an electric school bus and install the necessary infrastructure to make this conversion as soon as possible. HB2118 gives us the ability to do so. We are so thankful to Del. Keam for his dedication to our children’s health and their future.”

augusta free press
augusta free press