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Pacific Northwest poised to purchase 144 new electric school buses with federal help

The front grille of an electric school bus
Eric Gay
A Lion electric school bus is seen on display in Austin, Texas, Feb. 22, 2023. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 included $5 billion for cleaner school buses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is giving Oregon and Washington school districts more than $51 million to buy new electric school buses.

The Beaverton School District will purchase 50 buses, the Walla Walla School District will buy 15, and private organizations like First Student Inc. and the RWC Group plan to get a combined 79 buses.

“Children are most at risk for respiratory illnesses caused by diesel particulates so helping electrify school bus fleets is an investment in our kids’ health and their future,” EPA Region 10 administrator Casey Sixkiller said in a statement. “Any action we can take to reduce the incidence of asthma and other health issues children experience is the right thing to do.”

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek issued a similar message about the merits of the electrified buses.

“The grants will improve air quality to protect the health of our students and aid in our efforts to combat climate change in Oregon,” she said in a statement.

The $5 billionClean School Bus program was part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in 2021. School districts are invited toapply for the ongoing program.

Air pollution from older diesel engines islinked to asthma and other conditions, causing youth to miss school, particularly in communities of color and among tribal members.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the buses are critical for both children and schools.

“Not only do we see fewer asthma attacks because of electric buses, we also see calmer, happier kids because they no longer have to shout to hear each other over noisy diesel engines,” he said in a statement.

The EPA said the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the new buses will help to address the outsized role of transportation in the climate crisis.

Some Republican politicians have spoken out against the idea, saying electric buses are more expensive. Supporters say that’s true, but they’re cheaper to run over time.
Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.