Michigan School Districts Eye VW Settlement Money for Electric Buses
By Andy Balaskovitz
Michigan school districts looking to lower the emissions of their transportation fleets are eyeing millions of dollars from the Volkswagen settlement to be used for electric buses.
As part of a consent decree following the German automaker’s scandal involving its diesel vehicles, Michigan is in line to receive $60.3 million for an “environmental mitigation trust,” which is meant to offset the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from vehicles involved with the case.
Advocacy groups have been working with school districts in the region, including in Michigan, about potentially using some of that funding to purchase electric buses.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released a draft plan for spending the money over 10 years by replacing a variety of vehicle types, zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and staff. About half of the proposed spending — $32.3 million — would be for replacing 323 government-owned school buses over the 10-year period.
“We think that’s a really positive thing for a number of reasons,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. The ELPC has been informing Midwest school districts about the settlement fund opportunities, and has identified at least 17 Michigan districts interested in electric buses for their schools.
Mudd pointed to the roughly 700,000 Michigan K-12 students who ride in buses every day and who have greater risk to exposure from diesel exhaust.
“Diesel school buses historically have all sorts of emissions,” Mudd said, adding that NOx and other particulate emissions from diesel vehicles are a precursor for ozone and exacerbate asthma, particularly among children. “It would not be accurate to say school buses are the cause, but they are a contributor to the direct exposure kids are having.”