Clean Bus Program awards almost $1 billion across the U.S.

The program will award roughly $5 billion to school districts for zero and low-emission buses over the next five years.

ANNAPOLIS (Octo, 2022)—The Montgomery County School District added 61 new electric buses to their fleet on Monday, part of a planned 326 buses to be added by 2024. While Montgomery now has the largest operating electric fleet in the nation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday that 391 school districts across the U.S will soon receive nearly $1 billion combined for new clean school buses.

The awards were part of the Clean School Bus Program, included in President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill. The program will award roughly $5 billion to school districts for zero and low-emission buses over the next five years. The EPA report said that 95% of these buses will be electric. This round of awards received roughly 2,000 applications from school districts around the country. The first round of awards gave out $913 million, which will cover an estimated 2,468 buses.

Baltimore City Public Schools was the only Maryland school district to receive funding from this round of awards. The district was awarded $9.4 million for an estimated 25 buses, which tied for the largest award in the country in terms of number of buses.

As of June 2022, Maryland had the second highest percentage of electric bus commitments in the country, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). Several Maryland school districts are included on the WRI list as having committed to buses, which means the buses have been awarded, ordered, delivered, or are operating. These districts include Frederick County Public Schools, Howard County Public Schools, Prince George's County Public Schools, and Swann Transportation, a bus contractor serving Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's counties.

While Montgomery County leads Maryland in number of committed electric buses, the school district also has the seventh largest total school bus fleet in the country according to WRI, with more than 1,400 buses, meaning that the fleet will still be made up of a majority of traditional buses, even after the coming investment.

According to WRI, there are currently 767 electric buses which are either operating or have been delivered around the country as of June 2022, but the number of commitments for buses is much higher. This means school districts have committed and signed contracts for buses, but have not received them yet. The biggest commitment was made by Midwest Transit Equipment, a bus dealer with headquarters in Kankakee, Illinois. The company signed a contract with an electric vehicle manufacturer to repower 10,000 buses to electric over five years, more than four times as many buses as the EPA announcement.

While only 38 states had previously committed to buses according to the WRI dataset, the EPA announcement includes districts in all 50 states, as well as American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and District of Columbia. New York, California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas lead the country in numbers of buses they will receive as part of the program.

Montgomery County's claim to the largest fleet of electric buses should not be in jeopardy anytime soon. The biggest individual awards were made for 25 buses, which were awarded to 30 school districts around the nation.

According to the EPA, 99% of the applications that were accepted in this first round of funding were for "school districts identified as priority areas serving low-income, rural, and, or Tribal students." The agency also reported that originally the plan was to give out $500 million on this first round of awards, but overwhelming interest from school districts led to nearly doubling the award amount.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan wrote in the press release, "we are making an unprecedented investment in our children's health, especially those in communities overburdened by air pollution. This is just the beginning of our work to build a healthier future, reduce climate pollution, and ensure the clean, breathable air that all our children deserve."

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