Biden admin drops nearly $1 billion on green bus program inspector general warned was unfeasible

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The Biden administration is dispersing nearly another billion dollars in federal grants for school districts nationwide to decarbonize their bus fleets, despite recent inspector general findings casting doubt on the program.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a joint announcement with the White House, said it had selected 67 applicants to receive approximately $965 million to purchase electric and low-emission school buses. The funding means the agency has now awarded nearly $2 billion for thousands of new buses across hundreds of school districts under its Clean School Bus Program, which was created in late 2021.

“As part of our work to tackle the climate crisis, the historic funding we are announcing today is an investment in our children, their health, and their education,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement. “It also strengthens our economy by investing in American manufacturing and America’s workforce.”

“Today we’re once again accelerating the transition to electric and low-emission school buses in America, helping to secure a healthier future where all our children can breathe cleaner air,” added EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Thanks to President Biden’s historic investments in America, thousands more school buses will hit the road in school districts across the country, saving school districts money and improving air quality at the same time.”

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President Biden is pushing for the rapid adoption of electric vehicles and buses across the country. (Getty Images)

The grants unveiled Monday will help selected applicants purchase more than 2,700 electric or low-emissions school buses in 280 school districts serving more than 7 million students across 37 states, according to EPA. Those awards come a year after the EPA awarded more than $875 million to 2022 applicants under the program, funding the replacement of 2,366 buses at 372 school districts.

The Clean School Bus Program was created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which President Biden signed into law in November 2021. The legislation provides a total of $5 billion in federal grants through 2026 to replace existing diesel-powered school buses nationwide. The agency has projected the program will fund thousands of new electric school buses.

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“I led the Bipartisan Infrastructure & Jobs Law to passage so communities across the country will have the federal funding needed to combat climate change, and now, for the second year in a row, this major investment sets the wheels in motion to put new electric school buses on the road, curbing carbon emissions, decreasing pollution, and improving the air quality for students and communities across America,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

However, the EPA Office of Inspector General in late December published the findings of an audit which determined that the Clean School Bus Program was largely dependent on utility companies’ ability to increase power supplies. Further, the program may also face significant delays, according to the inspector general, without construction of additional charging stations.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan speaks during a news conference in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

Entities interviewed by the inspector general’s office specifically expressed concern about the ability of utility providers to bring power lines and transformers to school districts with electric buses. While some power providers have experience with electric bus infrastructure, they said they had never built such infrastructure at scale.

Establishing charging stations and connecting them to the regional power grid could take as much as two years, according to the report. Additionally, bus charging stations that are expected to support more than 25 buses in larger school districts face other challenges since they require different technology

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“The Agency may be unable to effectively achieve program goals unless it can ensure that school districts will be able to establish the infrastructure necessary to support clean bus and charging purchases,” the EPA inspector general concluded. “There could be delays in utilities constructing the needed charging stations to make the buses fully operational in a timely manner.”

“While early coordination with utilities is not a requirement, it could prevent the Agency from achieving its objective to remove older diesel buses and replace them with clean buses,” the report continued. “The increased demand on manufacturers and utility companies may impact the timeliness of replacing diesel buses and ultimately may delay program health and environmental benefits.”



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