In the last year, school districts and fleet operators have increased their commitments by roughly ten times, reflecting the tremendous expansion of electric school buses in the US. Currently, 38 states have made the commitment to buy more than 12,000 electric school buses.
Several states made significant progress toward the transition to clean school buses in the first half of 2022.
Most significantly, New York passed legislation establishing a pioneering national goal to have a fleet of entirely zero-emission school buses by 2035. Within a short period of time, three more states enacted identical fleet electrification goals, while California is still debating a fourth goal.
The new $5 billion EPA Clean School Bus Program will provide a series of funding opportunities over the next five years to cover costs associated with electric school bus fleet transitions, including bus replacements and charging infrastructure. In addition to setting transition timelines, several states continued to appropriate dedicated funding for electric school buses in an effort to leverage the federal funds accessible through this program.
3 Significant Victories for Electric School Buses in the State Legislative Sessions of 2022 There are several policy alternatives available for governors and state lawmakers that want to assist the equitable deployment of electric school buses. We have already seen three significant victories for kids and communities in laws that have been passed this year:
1) DEADLINES ARE BEING SET BY STATES FOR COMPLETE ELECTRIFICATION OF SCHOOL BUS FLEETS. When legislation requiring all new school bus purchases to be zero emission by 2027 and all buses in service to be zero emission by 2035 was passed as part of the budget in April 2022, New York became history as the first state in the nation to commit to electrifying its school bus fleet. This promise is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that New York has one of the largest school bus fleets in the country, consisting of about 47,000 vehicles that currently run nearly entirely on fossil fuels that are bad for communities, workers, and students.
A large coalition of public health, environmental, labor, equity, and industry groups supported the proposal, and ongoing communication with school districts, school bus operators, and their representatives also played a key role in its success.
Importantly, campaigners were successful in obtaining substantial state financing to support the state’s aggressive transition target. Governor Hochul and state legislators included $500 million for electric school buses in the final fiscal year 2023 budget and included this financing in a larger environmental bond legislation that will be put before New York voters in November.
Three other states have established goals for electrifying their school bus fleets this year in addition to New York. The numerous issues that governments need take into account as they prepare to convert their fleets are highlighted by the various techniques used by these states:
In May 2022, Connecticut Governor Lamont signed SB4 , which includes robust technical assistance provisions and an earlier fleet electrification date of 2030 for school buses operating in environmental justice communities (as previously designated in state code). Maryland passed SB528 in March 2022, which established an electric school bus utility pilot program for up to $50 million per investor-owned utility in the state and mandated that all new school bus purchases and contracts statewide be electric by 2025 (the earliest such date of targets passed this session). In Maine, Governor Mills signed LD 1579 in May 2022, which mandates that 75% of new school bus purchases and contracts must be zero emission by 2035 and establishes an interagency working group with participation from utility companies and school districts to assist with deployment. A reminder to lawmakers: In order for all of these goals to be achieved, devoted financing will be required.
2) States are prioritizing equity while continuing to appropriate funds for electric school buses. The EPA’s $5 billion Clean School Bus Program and state fleet electrification goals are both significant and ground-breaking developments. States, however, are also working to improve and introduce new state grant schemes. Given that the EPA Clean School Bus Program funds are not guaranteed and will only cover a percentage of a district’s fleet, continued state budget support for school bus electrification is essential. Additionally, a lot of the current state initiatives rely on monies from the state mitigation trust that was established in 2017 as a result of the Volkswagen settlement , but those assets have mostly been depleted.
It’s important to emphasize that the EPA Clean School Bus program uses a lottery and a competitive process to distribute funding. In other words, there isn’t a fixed sum made available to each state through a formula program. To pay for the full expenses of fleet transformation, additional state and local money will be required.
A number of states are prioritizing support for marginalized populations in order to develop new financing sources and advance equity. Colorado established a new grant program for the electrification of school buses in June 2022 as part of a larger air quality package that Governor Polis signed. The program’s initial budget is $65 million. This initiative stands out for putting equity first. The final bill prioritizes expenditures based on a range of equity indicators, including income level, racial makeup, health consequences and air pollution burdens (including federal nonattainment zones), among others, even though some implementation details are still being worked out.
The bill also mandates comprehensive interagency technical assistance plans. The final significant distinction introduced by the measure was that diesel-to-electric conversions, or “repowers,” would be qualified for state funding under the grant program. An important step that state programs can take to minimize costs for school districts, reduce waste, and shorten delivery times during a time of supply chain limitations is to include repowers. This new initiative strengthens Colorado’s position as the state that, at the time of approval, had invested the most funding per capita to support school districts going electric. It does so by complementing Colorado’s prior investment in school buses through Volkswagen settlement monies. With the May 2022 publication of its commitments 0, Colorado also announced plans for the deployment of electric school buses, with targets of 2,000 electric school buses on the road by 2027 and a full fleet changeover by 2035.
In June 2022, New Jersey established the grant commitments 1, which provides $45 million over three years for the electrification of school buses and related infrastructure for charging. Each year, the cash must be distributed to low-income, urban, or environmental justice communities by at least half.
A new $20 million grant program was formed by Connecticut’s adjusted budget commitments 2, which was authorized in May 2022, in order to maximize applications for federal monies by giving state matching grants for the purchase or lease of zero emission school buses and charging infrastructure. Applications that primarily support environmental justice communities are given preference by the award program. In particular, if federal subsidies fall short of paying the whole incremental cost of switching to a zero-emission fleet, these matching payments will serve as an essential bridge. Under-resourced districts will be able to increase their chances of receiving federal grants thanks to the help given to school districts applying for money from the federal government.
(3) A GROWING NUMBER OF STATES ARE FORMING A SUPPORTIVE POLICY ENVIRONMENT FOR ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUSES. This year, a record number of states around the US passed laws governing electric school buses. A few of these are mentioned below. Clarifying state education financing terms and lease and contract provisions are only two examples of important but less obvious areas of state power over electric school buses that were frequently addressed in the suggestions. Bipartisan support helped several of them pass.
commitments 3, a law passed in March 2022 in Washington, allows local entities to implement a wider range of initiatives to advance school bus electrification. This measure assures that state funding for county-level transportation vehicle funds can be utilized for electric repowering and conversions, charging infrastructure for school districts, and plans for electrifying the fleet of school buses.
Following commitments 5’s statement that it would establish a new electric school bus manufacturing factory in Charleston, West Virginia amended its state transportation financing for school districts in commitments 4, enacted in March 2022. The state would raise the standard transportation reimbursement for school districts by 10% to cover expenses incurred when operating alternative fuel vehicles, such as electric school buses. Alternative automobiles produced in West Virginia are given an extra 5%. This law exemplifies how electrifying school buses may lead to greener transportation for students as well as economic prospects for states looking to develop their domestic manufacturing sectors.
With the passing of commitments 6 in March 2022, Indiana became the most recent state to allow utility pilot projects for electric school buses. The pilot programs may be designed to deploy charging and make-ready infrastructure and offer a range of customer incentives to promote public use electric vehicles, such as electric school and transit buses, and their supply equipment, upon approval by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).
In Mississippi, commitments 7, passed in April 2022, expands the types of transportation that school districts may buy, own, and use in accordance with state law to include electric vehicles. Despite having no further significant ESB-related provisions, SB2887 was sponsored by Republicans and received almost universal approval.
Finally, in Idaho, commitments 8, passed in March 2022, raises the maximum contract duration for school bus contracts funded by the federal Clean School Bus Program from five to ten years. As the cost advantages of operating an electric vehicle, such as decreased maintenance and fuel expenses, increase over the lifetime of the vehicle, the extension of school bus contracts enables larger total cost of ownership savings to be obtained.
Other advancements include the addition of two states to national multi-state initiatives that support the electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including commitments 9 for school buses. The Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle (MHD ZEV) Initiative welcomed EPA Clean School Bus Program 0 as the 17th state in March 2022. In addition, Connecticut enacted the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Rule as part of EPA Clean School Bus Program 1, making it the sixth state to set sales goals for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Within the next year, Colorado and Maryland are anticipated to explore adopting the ACT, and Maine is still researching the matter.
ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUSES IN THE US: THE FUTURE There is no one single policy that can support state priorities on electric school buses, as evidenced by the mix of measures passed so far in 2022, from nation-leading fleet electrification targets to economic growth and industrial support. Additionally, states employed existing laws that define and identify environmental justice communities in many of the acts that were passed, giving priority to investments in these communities.
As other states proceed to approve their own policies, state officials, advocates, school districts, and others in these places must now devote their attention to the deliberate and equitable implementation of these programs. This momentum can continue to increase over the ensuing years because to the sizeable government money made available through the EPA Clean School Bus Program, which is funded for five years. States will be crucial in accelerating, bolstering, and scaling up this initiative to give all children a healthy commute to school.
Written by EPA Clean School Bus Program 2 and EPA Clean School Bus Program 3. The authors acknowledge Noah Strand, a former WRI intern, for his assistance in following legislation pertaining to electric school buses.
Published initially on EPA Clean School Bus Program 4.
The featured image is a gift from EPA Clean School Bus Program 5.
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