In May, the Biden-Harris administration provided $500 million in funding to school districts across the country. There were over 2,000 applications and $4 billion in funding requests.
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 keep students and staff healthy. .
Lori Byron, Hardin’s pediatrician, expresses the dangers of diesel buses to school children: “Diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen. Inside the school bus there is 2 to 7 times more pollution compared to what you have behind.” She also says that it is estimated that if the United States were to phase out older diesel buses, or at least retrofit them to be more efficient, annual school absences would be reduced by nearly 14 million. Exhaust fumes and pollution can have longer term health effects, but most absences are related to 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 feel good.”
In Montana, funding for clean buses will be particularly beneficial due to the freezing winter weather. “Some school districts in Montana simply can’t use diesel vehicles,” explained Neal Ullman, a Montana DEQ energy resource professional. “It’s not about emissions, it’s not about air quality, it’s about negative wind chill factors of 75 degrees. Diesel will gel and not run in those extremely cold conditions, so there are districts that we’re funding where they’re moving to an all-propane fleet out of necessity.”
In central Montana, the communities of Belt, Browning and Grass Range received the funding for the replacements.
The Billings School District also worked with the DEQ to transition to cleaner school buses.
The application is open until November 15. Neal Ullman anticipates that the selection and distribution process should be a relatively short process. The EPA plans to make an additional $1 billion available for clean school buses in 2023.