40 electric school buses headed to Washington districts

$12 million from VW settlement will help districts slash emissions

LACEY – Washington schools may be closed for the year, but when students return, some will be riding in 40 new, zero-emission electric school buses, thanks to grants from the Washington Department of Ecology. It’s one of the largest investments in zero-emission school buses in the country.

“When students are able to return to school, these 40 new, zero-emission buses will help get them there,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This is a great investment in a healthier future for students and their communities.”

“Children face the greatest risks from diesel pollution, and giving them cleaner transportation to school is a priority,” Watson said. “These buses are an important first step toward helping every student in Washington start and end their days with an emission-free ride.”

Funding from Washington’s Volkswagen diesel emission settlement will pay for the buses, which will go to 22 different school districts across the state. The first of the new buses are expected to arrive later this year. The grants are intended to accelerate replacing older diesel school buses and help cover the additional costs of purchasing an electric bus, compared to a conventional diesel bus. School districts can also use some of the funding to pay for charging stations.

Ecology is investing Washington’s $112.7 million share of the nationwide Volkswagen settlement in projects designed to cut air pollution and push our state’s transportation system toward zero-emission vehicles. In 2018 and 2019, Ecology awarded similar grants to transit agencies to purchase a total of 66 electric transit buses.

The Volkswagen settlements stem from the discovery that the carmaker illegally installed software on its diesel cars that activated emission controls only when it detected the emissions were being tested. In ordinary driving, the software allowed the engines to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for nitrous oxides, violating the state and federal Clean Air Acts and threatening public health.

Electric school buses, by the numbers

· 400,000 – Number of zero-emission miles these buses will drive each year

· 19,200 tons – Lifetime reduction in carbon dioxide emissions

· 3,000 – Number of children these buses will carry each day

· 2007 – All of the electric buses will replace pre-2007 diesel buses, with older emissions controls

· 67% – Two-thirds of these electric buses will serve communities disproportionately affected by diesel pollution.

· 36 tons – Lifetime reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions

· 1 – Current number of electric school buses in Washington (in Tacoma’s Franklin Pierce School District)

Learn more: Washington’s Volkswagen settlements – www.ecology.wa.gov/vw

Washington state will receive a total of $140 million from Volkswagen to settle violations of the state and federal Clean Air Acts. We are managing these settlement funds to reduce air pollution from transportation in Washington.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation to the automaker Volkswagen after it was discovered that the company illegally installed software on many of its diesel vehicles. The software allowed the vehicles to pass emissions tests when, in reality, they were emitting between 10 and 40 times the permitted levels of harmful nitrogen oxides. These actions violated both the federal and state Clean Air Acts, violations that Volkswagen resolved in a series of settlements in 2016. According to the EPA, a single year of elevated emissions from the affected VW vehicles could lead to as many as 50 premature deaths nationwide, $423 million in economic costs, and 3,000 lost workdays.

$140 million for cleaner air in Washington

The funds are the result of a $112.7 million federal settlement negotiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and $28.4 million from a separate state settlement. Our goal for investing the funds is to maximize air pollution reductions in communities affected by harmful diesel exhaust, and to make transformational investments in zero-emission vehicles. We arrived at these priorities based on the guidelines of the federal Volkswagen settlement and direction from the Washington Legislature. Ecology is already putting funding from the settlements to work in Washington’s school districts, public transit agencies, and public ports.

A steering committee, consisting of representatives from state agencies and the Governor’s office, guided our planning efforts. We also collected data to determine which communities are most affected by diesel pollution. We sought public input on the mitigation plan through webinars, briefings with legislators, and meetings with community organizations, and translated our educational materials into five languages. This outreach helped inform the 1,100 public comments we received on the draft mitigation plan.

– Washington Department of Ecology