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Climate-Friendly School Buses in Aurora Introduced by Gov. Polis, EPA Officials

Gov. Jared Polis joined Environmental Protection Agency officials in Aurora to promote grant programs that help Colorado school districts purchase new electric buses. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

by Chase Woodruff, Colorado Newsline
August 11, 2022

Every weekday, more than 25 million children across the United States ride the bus to school — and before long, environmental advocates hope, most of them will be riding in battery-powered, zero-emission electric vehicles.

Gov. Jared Polis joined Colorado lawmakers and officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to promote efforts to electrify school bus fleets in Aurora on Wednesday. Flanked by Aurora Public Schools administrators and two of the district’s newly purchased electric buses, Polis said the rapidly maturing EV technology comes with a wide range of benefits.

“These are more reliable than diesel buses, lower-cost to operate, better for the bus drivers and better for the kids, and free up money for better teacher pay and smaller class sizes,” Polis said. “What could be better?”

Clean-air legislation passed by Democrats in the General Assembly and signed into law by Polis this year included $65 million in grant funding to help Colorado school districts purchase new electric buses and retire older diesel models. At the federal level, the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted by Congress last year provided more than $5 billion for electric school bus rebates to be distributed by the EPA over the next five years.

Noting the health and climate hazards posed by air pollution from diesel engines, EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said it was “time to reimagine what riding the bus to school looks like for kids across this country.”

It’s time to imagine a school bus without a tailpipe — and in fact, we don’t have to imagine it, because they exist. There are a couple of them right here.

– EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe

“It’s time to imagine a school bus without a tailpipe — and in fact, we don’t have to imagine it, because they exist. There are a couple of them right here,” McCabe said.

The buses parked outside Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 on Wednesday were two of seven purchased by APS earlier this year, thanks to a previous $2.2 million grant from the Denver-area Regional Air Quality Council, which covered 80% of the upfront cost. District superintendent Rico Munn said APS will quickly recoup the remainder in lower operating and maintenance costs.

“This is just a win-win-win all the way around, for everyone,” Munn said.

 A battery-powered electric school bus is pictured outside Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school in Aurora on Aug. 10, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

More grant funding is on the way. KC Becker, head of the EPA’s Region 8 headquarters in Denver, said that the agency’s Clean School Bus Program had already received applications for about 80 new buses in Colorado, part of an initial round of $500 million in rebate funding to be doled out before the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. The deadline for applications is Aug. 19.

It will take time — and more money — to transition the thousands of school buses in operation across Colorado to electric models. But advocates are hopeful that advances in battery technology and a rapidly growing market will continue to push down the significant upfront costs, which currently can run to $375,000 per vehicle.

“As the program continues to grow, the cost of school buses will go down,” Becker said. “So we don’t know exactly how much money it will take to replace every school bus. We’ll see over time, as we replace older ones, and as the adoption rate increases, just how the costs go down.”

The EPA will award its first round of grants, which will cover the full cost of new electric buses as well as charging infrastructure, in October.

The state’s program, the final details of which will be released later this year, is intended to “fill the holes” by covering the cost difference between new diesel buses and electric models, Polis said.

“With the combination of this program and the state one when it rolls out, nearly all new buses that are purchased in the state will likely be electric within a couple years,” Polis said.

“You’re talking five to six years for a majority of the fleet to be electric,” he added. “This is rolling on fast. There’s going to be more and more electric school buses every year, and each year that will free up more of school districts’ budgets.”

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline, where this story first appeared.