Volkswagen clean air settlement money powers first-ever electric school buses in Michigan

    Michigan's new fleet of electric school buses | Claire Moore

    Seven Michigan school districts will receive electric school buses by next school year as part of a program to promote cleaner energy and air quality.

    The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) designated funds for 17 electric buses to replace diesel buses at schools in Kalamazoo, Three Rivers, Oxford, Gaylord, Roseville, Ann Arbor and Zeeland. Some of the new vehicles were rolled out at a Capitol press conference last week.

    Michigan’s new fleet of electric school buses | Claire Moore

    EGLE spokesperson Nick Assendelft said there are clear health benefits for students by reducing air pollution, especially for kids waiting to get on or off buses.

    “If you’ve been to school, when they’re picking up and dropping off kids, there’s a lineup of six or seven buses and they’re all idling and trying to stay warm in the winter time. Cleaning up the air around schools at the bus stop when the kids are loading and unloading. … It has health benefits for students.”

    These buses are funded by a trust given to Michigan as a result of the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement. In 2015, Volkswagen admitted to installing emissions control defeat devices allowing vehicles to release oxides of nitrogen to levels that violate the allowable limit in the federal Clean Air Act.

    Volkswagen | Wikimedia Commons

    During Volkswagen’s court process, an almost $3 billion trust was created to help states mitigate environmental concerns as a result of emissions. Michigan received roughly $65 million.

    EGLE is the lead administer of funds from the settlement, adhering to the Michigan Volkswagen Settlement Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.

    The goals of the plan are:

    • Improve air quality and reduce oxides of nitrogen 
    • Reduce diesel emissions from Michigan school buses 
    • Incorporate zero emission and alternative fuel vehicles and equipment into usage

    Almost $14 million is designated in the mitigation plan for scrapping diesel-powered school buses and replacing them with electric-powered buses. Other actions in the plan include replacing freight vehicles, transit buses, Great Lakes ferries and more.

    Michigan’s new fleet of electric school buses | Claire Moore

    At the same time the funds were designated to Michigan, the Fuel Transformation Program was created to seek out opportunities replace unsustainable fuel practices with sustainable ones.

    The buses will benefit schools on several levels, Assendelft said.

    Several schools have said they are going to use the buses as a hands-on learning tool in their STEM classes, he said. The buses educate students on energy usage and transportation in the future. And there’s research in the works to look at these buses as an emergency power source during a power outage.

    Anna Liz Nichols
    Anna Liz Nichols covers criminal justice, the environment and the Legislature. She has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. She is finishing up a degree in journalism and environmental studies at Michigan State University, graduating May 2020.

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