By Mary Linn and Mary Dipboye
One out of three children in the United States rides a bus every school day. Of the nearly 500,000 school buses operating in the United States today, approximately 95% run on diesel fuel. Mounting evidence shows that diesel exhaust is a major health hazard and can hamper lung development in growing children. Studies also show emissions of toxic gas molecules, like nitrogen oxides, are higher when heavy duty vehicles such as school buses run at low speeds through neighborhoods.
Globally, the University of Chicago estimates air pollution is worse for health than drugs or alcohol, cutting life spans short by an average of two years. Our children deserve clean air, and electric school buses are a critical part of the solution.
The good news: electric school buses are on the rise in Florida. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering $500 million in rebates using the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection awarded $57 million to Florida school districts for electric school buses. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have been approved for 50 new buses, Broward will get 60, Pinellas and Manatee counties will get 20 new buses, Sarasota County will get 12, and Orange County will get 6.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering $500 million in rebates for zero-emission and low-emission school buses through the 2022 Clean School Bus Program. With this new round of federal money, school districts can request funds to replace up to 25 buses with clean electric ones. We strongly encourage the school districts in Central Florida to request this funding!
The rollout of these electric school buses can also provide remarkable new opportunities to support clean energy utilization and disaster resilience. Each electric school bus is not just a bus, it’s a 150-kilowatt electric battery on wheels. By integrating these buses into the electric power grid and developing plans to use them for emergency energy provision in case of disaster, municipalities can maximize the benefits of this new technology. These buses can also help manage system loads during periods of high electricity demand. A single electric school bus has enough battery storage capacity to power a hospital operating room for almost two full days.
This Fourth of July, Central Florida can get rolling toward improving energy security. Let’s add a new color to our Independence Day celebrations this year: red, white, blue, and YELLOW for clean electric school buses.
Mary Linn is the Florida/Georgia campaign organizer for the Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advances policies to facilitate widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles. Mary Dipboye is co-chair of League of Women Voters Florida Clean Energy Committee. This piece first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.