Hey Michigan, Use VW Settlement Money to Buy EV Buses for Schoolchildren
By Toby C. Lewis and Janet McCabe
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder and state officials have an opportunity to help kids get a healthier start to their school day by purchasing clean electric school buses to replace dirty, diesel-powered school buses that cause asthma attacks. The state is about to get access to $65 million from a Volkswagen settlement that can only be spent on a few items to reduce air pollution, including electric school buses to replace the aging, dirty diesel fleet.
Over the course of nearly seven years, Volkswagen sold close to 600,000 diesel cars in the U.S. with engines programmed to trick emissions standards, contributing many tons of pollution to the environment. As part of a national settlement, the company is providing nearly $3 billion to states to support pollution-reducing projects.
A lot of Michigan kids can benefit from riding cleaner school buses. An estimated 660,000 children in communities across Michigan are climbing onto about 17,000 diesel-powered school buses every day.
There are three reasons why electric school buses make sense:
Healthier children: Children’s lungs are still developing and they breathe more rapidly than adults, making kids particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of exposure to diesel pollution. About 10% of Michigan children currently suffer from asthma, a disease that leaves lungs sensitive to irritation from the complex mix of fine particles, nitrogen oxides and other air pollutants in diesel fumes. These fumes seep into the cabins of school buses. Researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Washington have found that diesel school buses are responsible for millions of missed school days in the U.S. each year.
Healthier communities: A diesel bus driving around our cities and towns emits a chemical cocktail at ground level, near our schools, playgrounds and homes. The average school bus makes 85 stops per day. With an electric school bus, there’s no danger from running or idling engines, because no emissions come out of the tailpipe. In fact, there isn’t a tailpipe at all.
A healthier economy: States understand that a strong economy depends more and more on a healthy environment, which includes shifting to renewable energy resources. Because school buses operate according to school schedules, they can recharge their batteries overnight, when demand for energy is low. Electric school buses can also serve as local battery packs to provide extra juice back to the grid when it’s needed most. That reduces the demand on all energy sources providing power to the grid and creates a more sustainable power system with more clean energy as the source.
Electric school buses are not science fiction. There are already more than 100 on the road in North America, and American companies known for their diesel technology, like Cummins and Blue Bird, have announced investments in electric technologies for school buses.
Funds from the Volkswagen settlement are expected to be released once state agencies submit spending proposals. Governors putting VW money towards electric school buses would drive the market forward and costs down. School buses represent the largest category of mass transportation in our country, larger than transit and rail combined. We urge Michigan to help move this market to zero emissions and demonstrate leadership for health, the environment, our energy future, and most importantly, our children.
Toby C. Lewis is associate professor of pediatric pulmonology and environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan and attending physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Janet McCabe served as the U.S. EPA’s acting assistant administrator for Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration and is currently a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.