Electric School Bus Transition Gears Up Across New York State

EPA awards additional $95,815,000 for 355 electric school buses across the state.

Announcement comes one week after school districts across New York approved electric school buses in budget votes on May 21.

Anti-clean school bus legislation goes nowhere in the post-budget legislative session.

First round of state Environmental Bond Act funding to be announced this summer.

On May 29, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $95,815,000 in funding headed to New York as part of the third round of funding under its $5 billion Clean School Bus Program (CSBP). These new awards will support the purchase of 355 new Electric School Buses (ESBs) and they bring New York’s total federal CSBP funding to $214,272,733 for 685 ESBs.

Today’s exciting announcement, combined with the first $100 million (of a total of $500 million) in state funding from the New York State Bus Incentive Program (NYSBIP) that will be announced this summer, is a game changer for New York’s ESB transition. It comes just a week after New Yorkers across the state – from the North Country to the Hudson Valley – went to the polls to say yes to clean electric school buses and no to the status quo of dirty diesel rides for their children. 

On May 21, voters in the overwhelming majority of school districts with ESBs on the ballot chose to approve new ESB purchases for their community, leaving little doubt as to where New Yorkers stand on the issue. 

“A passed budget vote speaks to our community’s trust that we are providing the best, safest and most effective learning environment for our students,” said Kristin Sercu, the Transportation Supervisor at Pine Valley and Cassadaga Valley School Districts. “In transportation, we believe the school day starts at the bus stop. With grant subsidies and funds allocated in the budget for the purchase of electric school buses, it will allow us to move to a cleaner, quiet, safe start to each student’s school day.”

The weeks and months leading up to the school budget votes saw the proliferation of misinformation about the cost and functionality of ESBs, leading a group of advocates – including NYLCV, Mothers Out Front, World Resources Institute, ACE NY, and the American Lung Association – to go on the offensive to set the record straight. The joint campaign highlighted the immense health benefits for kids riding ESBs, as well as the myriad funding opportunities available, exposing the false choice between budget constraints and children’s health.  

Meanwhile, in Albany, efforts by a group of lawmakers to scuttle the state’s transition to ESBs before it even starts were met with a collective shrug in the state capitol as a series of anti-clean school bus bills have failed to make it out of committee.

Electric school buses offer significant savings on fuel and maintenance, compared to their diesel counterparts. In fact, it’s estimated that each electric school bus will save, on average, approximately $100,000 in operational costs over its lifetime. In addition, with available federal and state funding, the upfront costs of electric school buses can be lower than diesel buses. Sometimes starkly so. 

In Alexandria, New York, for example, after grants, the school district paid approximately $90,000 for an ESB, which is less than half the cost of a new fossil fuel-powered bus. And that’s before the savings on fuel and maintenance. 

The momentum is firmly behind the state’s ESB transition, and that’s great news for children across the state.

That’s because tailpipe fumes from diesel buses not only pollute the air outside, they are literally poisoning the lungs of the riders and drivers inside the bus. In fact, the air pollution inside a diesel school bus can be 4–12 times worse than outside. This is an acute crisis in underserved communities, who already face higher rates of respiratory illness due to years of short-sighted environmental policies.

ESBs are the only school bus option with zero tailpipe emissions. They reduce student exposure to harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides that contribute to long-term heart conditions and the surging asthma epidemic, which is the leading cause of school absenteeism in the state and is exponentially worse in communities of color. 

Furthermore, as the impacts of the climate crisis bear down on us, electric school buses are a key component of the state’s transition to a clean energy economy. ESBs produce the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions of any school bus type – less than half that of others – even when accounting for emissions generated in production of the electricity used to power the buses.

While school districts have another 11 years to execute the transition to ESBs, parents and other community members sent an unmistakable message on May 21. With the health of our children at stake, and for the sake of our climate, the arrival of ESBs cannot come soon enough. 

Said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters:
It is so exciting to see the rubber meet the road on New York’s electric school bus transition. With hundreds of millions of dollars in funding flowing to school districts across the state – with more to come – and voters turning out overwhelmingly to say yes to clean and healthy rides for their children, the message to state and local officials is clear: when it comes to children’s health, it’s time to get on the bus. 

Sue Gander, Director, WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative, said:
“On Tuesday, New Yorkers across the state sent a clear message that they want to protect their children’s health by transitioning to clean electric school buses. Electric school buses are already successfully operating in all types of weather and terrain and in urban, suburban, and rural communities – all while saving money on fuel and maintenance costs. With record levels of state and federal funding available to purchase electric school buses, districts can expect to see tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings over the lifetime of their bus.
This marks an important milestone in the transition to a school bus fleet that helps children, drivers and communities all breathe easier – a perfect fit as we commemorate May as Asthma Awareness Month.”

Deb Peck Kelleher, Deputy Director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, said: “The EPA funding announcement will provide 47 school districts with the ability to replace over 350 buses with to zero-emission buses. These districts are making investments in our children’s future improving the health of their students and making a contribution in our fight against climate change. We look forward to many more school districts making the same investments in the coming years.”

Bella Cockerell, New York State Manager for Mothers Out Front, said:
“As mothers, our top priority is the health and safety of our children. The transition to electric school buses is a monumental step in ensuring cleaner air and a brighter future for our kids. By moving away from diesel, we are protecting our families from harmful pollutants and showing our children that we are committed to their well-being and the health of our planet. This is a victory for every parent who wants their child to breathe easier and live in a more sustainable world. We are eager to see all school districts make this important change and be advocates for a 100% zero-emission electric school bus fleet by 2035.”

Lonnie Portis, New York City Policy and Advocacy Manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said: “We are excited that the people of New York State have gotten onboard with electric school buses, reminding Albany that the safety of our children, communities, and the planet are top priorities. This is particularly good news for environmental justice communities because dirty diesel buses are usually based in these communities, adding to the cumulative impact of what is already significantly worse air quality from the highways, factories, and other sources of pollution that exist in these neighborhoods.”

About the New York League of Conservation Voters
The New York League of Conservation Voters is the only non-partisan, statewide environmental organization in New York that takes a pragmatic approach to fight for clean water, healthy air, renewable energy, and open space. For over thirty years, NYLCV has worked to lobby state and local governments on environmental policy, provide objective information to the public, and hold elected officials accountable. For more information, visit www.nylcv.org.

About World Resources Institute (WRI)
WRI is a global research organization that works with governments, businesses, multilateral institutions and civil society groups to develop practical solutions that improve people’s lives and protect nature. www.wri.org 

About the Alliance for Clean Energy New York: The Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting clean energy, energy efficiency, a healthy environment, and a strong economy for the Empire State and is New York’s premier advocate for the rapid adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. www.aceny.org

Mothers Out Front is a member-led climate justice organization. We are mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and other caregivers coming together to make climate justice a priority issue that our decision-makers can no longer ignore. We are building a powerful grassroots movement to ensure a swift, complete and just transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean and renewable energy future where our children and families can thrive, not just survive. www.mothersoutfront.org 

05.29.24 // AUTHOR: Devin Callahan //