One interesting, and rather overlooked, section of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act), included TITLE XI Clean School Buses and Ferries, Section 71101 Clean School Bus Program. 

The legislation was signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021. The official White House website states the following about the bill:

“Helps us tackle the climate crisis by making the largest investment in clean energy transmission and EV infrastructure in history; electrifying thousands of school and transit buses across the country; and creating a new Grid Deployment Authority to build a clean, 21st-century electric grid.”  – White House Briefing Room, Fact Sheet: Historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (July 28, 2021)

“American school buses play a critical role in expanding access to education, but they are also a significant source of pollution. The deal will deliver thousands of electric school buses nationwide, including in rural communities, helping school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero emission buses, and replace the yellow school bus fleet for America’s children. The deal invests $2.5 billion in zero emission buses, $2.5 billion in low emission buses, and $2.5 billion for ferries. These investments will drive demand for American-made batteries and vehicles, creating jobs and supporting domestic manufacturing, while also removing diesel buses from some of our most vulnerable communities. In addition, they will help the more than 25 million children and thousands of bus drivers who breathe polluted air on their rides to and from school. Diesel air pollution is linked to asthma and other health problems that hurt our communities and cause students to miss school, particularly in communities of color and Tribal communities.” – White House Briefing Room, Fact Sheet: Historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (July 28, 2021)

Previous legislation, entitled the Clean School Bus Act of 2021, “ directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish the Clean School Bus Grant Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Under the program, DOE must award grants for the replacement of existing diesel school buses with electric buses” was reintroduced to the Senate in March of 2021 (after first being introduced in 2019), but did not progress any further. 

Following this legislation, millions of children across the country will, as soon as next year, no longer have to deal with exposure to toxic emissions just to get to school. The levels of pollution within buses can be up to 10 times as high as the levels of pollution outside. Currently, school bus emissions account for the release of approximately 5.3 million tons of GHG every year. Though it is not perfect, particularly in its generous definition of clean school buses (which allows them to run partly using alternative fuel), this section and the accompanying appropriations are historic in scope and in environmental impact. 

Some quick points from the legislation

  • Alternative fuel is defined as “liquified natural gas, compressed natural has, hydrogen, propane, or biofuels”
  • A clean school bus is defined as a school bus that (A) “the Administrator certifies reduces emissions and is operated entirely or in part using alternative fuel; or (B) is a zero-emission school bus” 
    • A zero-emission school bus is defined as a school bus that “is certified by the Administrator to have a drivetrain that produces, under any possible operational mode or condition, zero exhaust emission of – (A) any air pollutant that is listed pursuant to section 108(a) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7408 (a)) (or any precursor to such an air pollutant); and (B) any greenhouse gas”
  • Authorization of appropriations – $1,000,000,000 for each fiscal year 2022 – 2026
  • Funds will be split – 50% of the funding (in one fiscal year) is allocated to “replace existing school buses with zero-emission school buses” and 50% is allocated to “replace existing school buses with clean school buses and zero-emission school buses”
  • The Administrator (as in the Administrator of the EPA) has 120 following the passage of the bill to “develop an education and outreach program to promote and explain the award program under this section”

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