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First electric school buses in Michigan roll out for "back to school"

September 12, 2019

Thomas Built electric school busMichigan's first electric school buses will be on the road beginning September 12. The project is financed in part from a Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement allocation via the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Fuel Transformation Program. Seven Michigan school districts will receive 17 electric school buses to replace 17 older diesel school buses.

The buses will operate in Zeeland, Kalamazoo, Three Rivers, Oxford, Gaylord, Roseville, and Ann Arbor.

With the support of EGLE, the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) took on the responsibility to convene stakeholders in support of cleaner air, alternative fuel options, and a safer environment for children.

With electric school buses, children's exposure to harmful diesel exhaust fumes and particles drops to zero. In addition, no fumes from buses idling near school doors are drawn inside the school building, where children spend most of their day. Diesel emissions from older buses are not only immediately harmful to Michigan's children, but also impact climate and contribute to long-term damage to the environment.

Contaminants from diesel exhaust include over 40 substances listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as either hazardous air pollutants or criteria pollutants (or precursors to criteria pollutants, such as nitric oxides and nitrogen dioxide, both components of oxides of nitrogen).  Both hazardous air pollutants and criteria pollutants have known adverse health impacts on humans.

Combustion of fossil fuels accounts for 85 percent of fine particulate air pollution and almost all airborne emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides. It is the major source of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants, such as ozone.

Michigan had a great opportunity with the allocation it received from the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement to support transition to cleaner transportation options with lower emissions. MAPT took the lead to get schools interested in participating in the electric school bus project.

MAPT convened stakeholders to move the needle toward healthy and sustainable communities by collaborating on a $4.2 million grant for the electric school buses from Michigan's Fuel Transformation Program (FTP). Partners who collaborated on this project included educators, administrators, state and local agencies, vehicle and equipment manufacturers, utility companies, and the United States and Canada.

Michigan's FTP leverages these non-taxpayer dollars from the Volkswagen settlement allocation to cut down on diesel emissions to:

  • Reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions and other air pollutants.
  • Improve air quality in National Ambient Air Quality non-attainment and maintenance areas in Michigan.
  • Mitigate climate change.
  • Protect the health of vulnerable populations.

The FTP finances replacement of older diesel vehicles and equipment with new vehicles and equipment powered by:

  • Cleaner diesel engines; 
  • Propane; 
  • Hydrogen fuel cells; 
  • Hybrid technology; 
  • Compressed natural gas; and 
  • Battery-powered electric technology. 

Michigan's FTP is administered through EGLE's Materials Management Division (MMD). The MMD provides grant resources, technical assistance and education, and outreach to businesses and communities. Sustainable development goals highlighted in the Electric School Bus Project are:

  • Good health and wellbeing.
  • Affordable and clean energy.
  • Economic growth.
  • Sustainable cities and communities.
  • Responsible consumption and production.
  • Climate action.
  • Partnerships.

Upcoming grants from Michigan's FTP, administered by EGLE's MMD, will include grants for replacement of older diesel vehicles and equipment with new:

  • School buses (propane- clean diesel-, or hybrid-powered school buses);
  • Local freight vehicles – medium and large trucks and port drayage trucks;
  • Shuttle buses;
  • Transit buses;
  • Freight switchers;
  • Airport ground support equipment;
  • Ferries and tugs;
  • Marine shore power;
  • Port cargo handling equipment and forklifts; and
  • Light-duty zero emission supply equipment.

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