The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will nearly double its first round of rebates for “clean school buses,” awarding $965 million in response to high demand.
The rebates allow schools to replace existing diesel buses with zero- and low-emissions alternatives, including those that run on electricity and natural gas, and the equipment necessary to support them.
The money is part of a $5 billion fund created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, signed by President Joe Biden last November. The funding for school buses will be distributed over five years.
After initially offering $500 million for the first round of rebates, the EPA received 2,000 applications from every state and territory, with requests totaling nearly $4 billion for over 12,000 buses by its August deadline, the agency said in a news release.
More than 90 percent of applicants requested funding for electric buses, and the rest sought to purchase buses fueled by propane and compressed natural gas. Rebates range from $15,000 to $375,000 per bus depending on criteria like vehicle type.
The EPA will work through remaining applications to verify eligibility and notify selectees in October, it said in a release. It expects to issue an additional $1 billion in rebates in the next fiscal year.
“America’s school districts delivered this message loud and clear—we must replace older, dirty diesel school buses,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Together, we can reduce climate pollution, improve air quality, and reduce the risk of health impacts like asthma for as many as 25 million children who ride the bus every day.”
The rebate program prioritizes low-income, rural, and Tribal communities.
There are about 480,000 school buses in the United States, and only about 1 percent are powered by electricity. Advocates for converting to more-efficient school buses argue that, because school transportation is so common, widespread changes in school fleets could serve as a tipping point in reducing U.S. fuel emissions and improving consumer acceptance of electric vehicles of all kinds.
As it negotiated specifics what eventually became the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill with members of Congress, the Biden administration included electric school buses as one of its priorities. Officials cited concerns about emissions and fuel efficiency from diesel engines, and poor air quality contributing to conditions like children’s asthma.
But, as Education Week reported in June, many district leaders are still unaware of the funding. Others have logistical concerns about converting their diesel transportation fleets to newer, less-tested technologies.
For example, Tesi Solis, transportation director of the Northside district in San Antonio, Texas, said at the time that the district’s best lot for potential electric buses was overcrowded and had no room to install charging stations.
Other district leaders said their primary transportation focus was on recruiting and retaining enough bus drivers to maintain their routes, which has been a struggle for school systems around the country.