In May, the Biden-Harris Administration granted $500 million of funding to school districts nationwide. There were more than 2,000 applications and $4 billion in requests for funding.
The Environmental Protection Agency decided to nearly double that funding to $965 million last week in an effort to save school districts money, protect the environment, and preserve the health of students and staff.
Lori Byron, a pediatrician from Hardin, expresses the dangers of diesel buses to schoolchildren, "Diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen. Inside the school bus there is 2-7 times more pollution compared to what you have behind it." She also says it is estimated if the United States were to do away with older, diesel buses, or at least retrofit them to be more efficient, annual absences amongst schoolchildren would be reduced by almost 14 million. The exhaust and pollution can cause longer term health effects, but most of the absences are related to the direct exposure. Lori Bryon explains, "It certainly decreases lung function, it increases asthma attacks. Air pollution, and especially diesel pollution, can cause headaches, fatigue and just not feeling good."
In Montana, the clean bus funding will be especially beneficial due to the frigid, wintertime climate. "There's some school districts in Montana that simply cannot operate diesel vehicles," Neal Ullman, a Montana DEQ energy resource professional, explainsed. "It's not about emissions, it's not about air quality, it's about negative 75 degree wind chill factors. Diesel will gel up and won't operate in those extremely cold conditions so there's some districts we fund where they are changing to an all propane fleet out of necessity."
In central Montana, the communities of Belt, Browning, and Grass Range have received the funding for replacements.
The Billings school district has also worked with the DEQ to switch to cleaner school buses.
The application is open through November 15th. Neal Ullman anticipates the selection and distribution process should be a relatively short process. The EPA anticipates making another $1 billion available for clean school buses in 2023.
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