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Students will breathe easier with funding for 138 electric school buses

On a sunny morning in early November, three bright yellow school buses did something extraordinary: They glided through an Ypsilanti school parking lot with no smoke, no smell, and virtually no sound.

The full-size battery-powered buses offered a sneak preview of the 138 electric buses coming soon to 25 Michigan public schools and districts (listed below) on the strength of $54 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant awards.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark at a press conference in Ypsilanti celebrating the announcement that 138 electric school buses will be coming soon to 25 Michigan public schools and districts.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark in Ypsilanti at electric school bus announcement.

 

It will be Michigan’s first large influx of electric school buses since September 2019, when the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) awarded $4.2 million to support the purchase of 17 electric school buses and charging stations to serve seven Michigan school districts, replacing 17 polluting diesel buses. EGLE also awarded a grant to Dean Transportation in September 2022 for an electric bus to replace a diesel used by Cadillac Public Schools.

The EPA designed its new five-year, $5 billion Clean School Bus Program, funded through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce cleaner air. The program awarded nearly $1 billion nationwide to support the purchase of more than 2,400 clean-powered buses. The grants of up to $375,000 per bus plus $20,000 for charging infrastructure will help districts replace older, heavily polluting buses with brand new clean buses, while freeing up needed resources for other school expenses.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark joined representatives of two grantee school districts (Ypsilanti Community Schools and Dearborn Community Schools); electric school bus providers; and regional, state, and federal dignitaries at a Nov. 2 press conference to celebrate the funding for Michigan schools.

“These grants are forward-focused in two crucial ways,” Clark said. “They protect the health of our children and generations to come in Michigan’s promising clean-energy future, and they move us toward the ambitious goals we’ve set to reduce our carbon footprint and avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”

The MI Healthy Climate Plan, Michigan’s roadmap to a prosperous, carbon-neutral economy by 2050, calls for the state to add infrastructure to support 2 million electric vehicles on Michigan roads by 2030 and to increase access to clean transportation, including public transit, by 15% a year. Public school buses collectively form America’s largest transit system.

“Today, we’re celebrating a big win,” EPA Region 5 Director Debra Shore told attendees at the Nov. 2 event. She noted that 99% of the school districts chosen for grants across the country serve low-income, rural, and tribal students. “EPA is proud to be able to partner with them and help move our country forward towards a cleaner, healthier future.”

“Clean buses are going to make a real difference in the health of our kids,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Dearborn received funding for 18 electric buses. Superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko praised the impact they will have and the example they’ll set.

“I think for our students,” he said, “the lesson is good stewardship for the environment.”

Ypsilanti received funding for 10 electric buses, which Assistant Superintendent Dr. Carlos Lopez said is “a game-changer” for his district. Ypsilanti High School junior Devon Kirkland says it should also be a game changer students like himself who have asthma that was aggravated by diesel fumes from riding the bus as a child.

“It’s not something I should have had to deal with at that age,” he said, and he hopes a niece and nephew who will soon attend Ypsi schools will be among those who benefit from the zero-emissions buses.

In addition to the funding for Ypsilanti and Dearborn, the EPA also awarded grants in Michigan to Pontiac schools for 25 buses; Jackson for 21; Homer for seven; Ubly for six; Beecher, Britton Deerfield, and Chesaning Union for five each; Hartford and Pellston for four each; Cassopolis, Harbor Beach, Hopkins, and Onsted for three each; Alcona, Bessemer, L'Anse, Mayville, Pentwater, and Sand Creek for two each; and one apiece for Armada, Au Gres-Sims, Ojibwe Charter, and Unionville-Sebewaing.

The EPA’s next $1 billion annual round of funding, for fiscal year 2023, will launch in the coming months with an ambitious grant competition. The agency encourages participation by school districts that were not selected in the first round or did not apply for this funding cycle.