Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
In nearly every community across the Midwest students ride yellow school buses. It’s a classic feature of American life, so common it’s easy to overlook. But the diesel engine inside your average bus is not so sunny as its exterior, producing air pollution that poses health risks to our children, along with carbon emissions that exacerbate climate change.
The U.S. school bus fleet is the nation’s largest form of public transportation with 2.5x the number of vehicles of all other forms of mass transportation combined. School buses also serve a particularly important and vulnerable population, transporting more than 25 million children to and from school every day. In five Midwest states alone (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota) nearly 4 million children ride 86,800 school buses.
School buses transport more than 25 million children every day. Our children deserve a clean ride.
Transitioning to 100% pollution-free, electric school buses is critical for the future of our communities. Children’s lungs are still developing, so they are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of diesel pollution generated by dirty fossil fuel school buses. Moreover, kids living in environmental justice communities generally experience higher rates of asthma and other lung ailments and are therefore disproportionately impacted by diesel school buses they ride and that drive through their neighborhoods.
While the sticker price is higher, an electric bus actually costs less over the life of the vehicle compared to a diesel bus, making it a better investment in the long run. Additionally, electric bus batteries can serve as valuable grid resources, storing clean energy for times of high demand or emergency situations. ELPC is working with school districts, administrators, utilities, and government agencies to overcome cost barriers and ensure electric school bus programs roll out effectively across the Midwest.
ELPC is a founding member of the Alliance for Electric School Buses, a national coalition advocating for the rapid expansion of electric school buses in the communities that need them most. Together, we call on Congress and the White House to improve children’s health with electric school buses.
Thanks to our collective advocacy, the U.S. EPA launched a groundbreaking Clean School Bus Program in the spring of 2022. Authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the program will fund $5 billion over the next five years to replace dirty old school buses with low- and zero-emissions buses. Unfortunately, there are flaws in the program design that add unnecessary burdens for several low-income school districts in the Midwest. ELPC is working hard to ensure ALL school districts have the opportunity and support to apply for this important program.
ELPC is working to build mutually beneficial partnerships between Midwestern school districts and utility companies. Thanks to bidirectional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging stations and improved software, electric school buses not only provide a clean ride for kids, but also act as a distributed energy resource.
Bus batteries can store energy from local wind and solar sources which school districts can sell back to the grid at peak times. V2G energy reduces the need to use power plants, lowering pollution, and saving energy costs for everyone. Plus, bus batteries can serve as mobile energy units in emergency situations, helping to power community centers, healthcare services, or other essential places when the power grid goes down. Learn more about our work with utilities here.
After the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, states received money from the legal settlement to improve air quality. We analyzed the available uses and found that electric school buses were one of the best uses of those funds, so we set out to inform Midwestern communities and legislators. In 2017, ELPC led an electric school bus tour to six communities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. We shared our research and amplified voices of local communities, public health experts, education professionals, and utility leaders.
Through our advocacy efforts and working with environmental and public health coalition partners, Midwest state agencies in IL, MI, OH, IN, and MN allocated a combined $20 million toward electric school buses. In 2021, Illinois EPA announced it would earmark the remaining $88 million of its VW funds toward pollution-free school and transit buses and electric vehicle charging stations, as ELPC and coalition partners urged. In 2022, the Pritzker administration awarded the first $4.2 million in grants to provide 17 buses for the Chicagoland and Metro-East regions of the state. ELPC continues to work with state leaders and school administrators across the Midwest to direct resources where they are most needed.