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August 15, 2019   |   Sierra Sun Times


Response to Central Valley Congressman Sponsors Legislation to Clean Up Valley

From Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum:

A number of California’s congressional representatives (Central Valley Congressman Sponsors Legislation to Clean Up Valley Air) are co-sponsors of a bill, HR 3973, seeking to steer $1 billion of taxpayer funds to “replace traditional school buses with electric ones” across the nation.

They promise that by “reducing student’s exposure to diesel exhaust to significantly cut down on asthma-related health incidents, increase attendance, and provide long term savings to school districts, and also to address air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley.” HR 3973 would provide grants of up to $2 million for school districts to replace diesel buses with electric ones. 

Given the high cost of electric school buses and their infrastructure requirements, that $2 million dollars might purchase only two new buses and supporting charging stations. Will two new electric school buses really be able to deliver on all those lofty promises? Hard to imagine. 

Even larger questions emerge about whether investing in electric school buses will significantly improve regional air quality. According to the most recent data from CARB, school buses (gasoline and diesel combined) are barely a blip on the emissions inventory, accounting for just 0.7 percent of all nitrogen oxide emissions and 0.2 percent of organic gases from mobile sources in California. It’s easy to see why: school buses operate under low-load conditions, typically only operate 9-10 months a year and, compared to commercial trucks, travel relatively few miles each year. Is this marginal use pattern the best use scenario for an expensive asset? 

EV buses also might not make sense for many rural districts. Rather than tell school bus fleet operators what is best for them, why not modify the legislation to help school districts upgrade to any newer bus technology? A technology neutral approach would allow school districts to upgrade their bus fleets with whichever fuels and technology best suit their needs. If some districts decided they could buy eight new diesel buses with $2 million instead of just two electrics, those districts would have a greater number of their students riding on newer, safer buses. Since the newest generation of diesel buses are near-zero emissions, that seems like a smart investment. Other school districts may want to choose to operate their entire existing diesel fleet on 100 percent advanced renewable low-carbon biodiesel fuels, which also help reduce emissions for ALL buses.

The point is this: there are many ways to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution, reduce carbon emissions and upgrade the school bus fleet to newer, safer buses. But, school bus fleet operators are in the best position to decide which fuel or technology works best for them.

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