Bip Bip: Electric school buses are rolling in Culpeper

Culpeper County Public Schools plans to replace older diesel buses with zero-pollution electric buses.

Have you ever switched to an electric vehicle? Culpeper Schools does just that.

This school year, the district plans to phase out old diesel school buses and replace them with zero-pollution electric buses instead.

Representative Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), a Democrat in the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives, joined Culpeper B. City Councilman Travis Brown, Julie Kimmel with Moms Clean Air Force, Dan Taylor with BlueGreen Alliance and Michael Town with Virginia League of Conservation Voters for a tour of one of these buses on August 23.

Together the group discussed the multiple benefits of the upcoming fleet for which the community received $80,000. The funds came from two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs: the US Bailout 2021 Electric School Bus Rebates and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act School Bus Rebates (DERA) of 2021.

Positive aspects noted by Spanberger included:

  • Health benefits for children
  • Appreciation by bus drivers
  • How easy it is for localities
  • Maintenance fees
  • Cost savings

“I’m so proud that from a federal perspective we’re investing in our communities and meeting the needs on the ground,” Spanberger said.

Take the bus

For Kimmel with Moms Clean Air Force, the opportunity to replace diesel buses knocked close to home. A mother of a seven-year-old second grader, Kimmel said her daughter often regale her with stories from the school bus when she arrives home.

“I hear even more about what’s going on on the bus every day than anything she goes through — who she sits with, what games they play, what snacks they eat,” Kimmel said. “School buses capture children’s imaginations. They are present in the life of every family in one way or another.

However, for some families, some buses have safety issues. Kimmel said that, especially for children with asthma — about 129,000 of whom lived in Virginia in 2018 — long bus rides can “feel like a matter of life and death.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that outdoor air pollution, including diesel exhaust from school buses, can cause asthma episodes.

Additionally, Moms Clean Air Force listed the potential effects of diesel exhaust, including:

  • Lung irritation
  • To cough
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Lung and heart damage

“Every new bus on the road has a lifespan of up to 15 years, and that’s 15 more years locked in burning fossil fuels,” Kimmel said. “Transportation is the biggest source of carbon pollution in Virginia and the country. If we [want to] protect the health and future of our children, we cannot afford to put another fossil fuel bus on the road.

Profitable

Local Councilor Brown made another point: the fluctuating cost of diesel fuel has impacted the area’s budget.

“Diesel prices are skyrocketing right now. The county is paying hand in hand, you know, first so the kids [be] put [on] the buses. And we haven’t really budgeted for that,” Brown said. “And to be able to have a much more stable, much more consistent power source for our buses – even outside of the environmental issue – is really great to think about as a member of local government.”

Additionally, the change could bring additional opportunities to the Commonwealth, which Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, pointed out.

“What better example and symbol for well-paying jobs, innovation, [and] clean Air [exists], than a school bus? It’s awesome,” Town said. “We are going in the right direction. We do things. I’m thrilled to join you today to celebrate first-hand an example of how we get things done when our elected officials roll up their sleeves – they’re ready to focus and work together. We can solve big problems. We can improve our community.

Additional help

The US bailout wasn’t the only legislative package that propelled a more environmentally conscious nation.

President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act on August 16 – which allocated about $740 billion. Among other actions, the law will reduce energy costs, create jobs and fight climate change across America.

BlueGreen Alliance’s Taylor noted that the bipartisan infrastructure law also had significant gains.

The federal investment provided funds for infrastructure needs, including roads, bridges, public transit, water, resilience and broadband. Taylor called these investments “good for our climate, good for public health, and good for creating union jobs — all things we care about.”

Taylor further noted that the investments have demonstrated that there is no need to choose between a clean environment and good jobs. On the contrary, the two could coexist.

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