A Successful Step Forward For Clean School Buses: New York’s Volkswagen Settlement

To offset the harmful environmental impacts caused by extreme nitrogen oxide emission violations, Volkswagen was required to invest $2.7 billion into a nationwide Environmental Mitigation Trust to fund emission reduction projects. Under this agreement, New York State received $127 million to invest into projects to counteract these harmful impacts.

Throughout this year, NYLCVEF has been advocating for Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to invest this settlement funding in electric school buses for children in environmental justice communities as part of the Clean Buses for Healthy Niños (CBHN) Campaign. Environmental justice communities share a disproportionate burden of poorer air quality than other communities.

Governor Cuomo and DEC announced that the settlement funds will be invested in clean transportation including earmarking 40% for buses – a successful step forward in our advocacy campaign. The plan is also a critical step in Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, and 80% by 2050.

As part of this announcement, the administration distributed its Clean Transportation New York Beneficiary Mitigation Plan on how the VW settlement will fuel the transition from diesel to cleaner energy alternatives. The plan includes replacing older diesel-powered vehicles with alternative fuel, electric, or new diesel vehicles, as well as funding for electric vehicle supply equipment and electrification infrastructure.

The environmental impact is expected to be significant. DEC estimates that implementing the plan will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 130,000 tons, nitrogen oxides emissions by 4,500 tons, equivalent to removing 65,000 cars from our roads per year over an estimated 10-year useful lifetime.

DEC will prioritize these emissions reduction projects in environmental justice communities that have traditionally been overburdened by pollution, which leads to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Children who ride diesel school buses remain one of the most vulnerable populations to air pollution and stand to gain the greatest benefits if these sources of pollution are eliminated.

School buses, shuttle buses, and transit buses will receive approximately 40% of the total funding (at least $52,400,000). DEC estimates this will cover 500 vehicles statewide, over 100 of which will be all-electric transit buses and 400 of which would be alternative fuel, electric or new diesel-powered school and paratransit buses.

We will continue to work with the administration and stakeholders to ensure that electrification of our state’s school bus fleet remains a top priority as this plan is implemented. As the numerous benefits of the all-electric buses are evident, we hope that more transitions can be made. Not only will electric replacements reduce emissions, but they can save money on fuel and maintenance as well. Cleaner energy costs less to maintain and fewer harmful emissions leads to fewer public health issues, which also saves money for families and local governments.

We are proud that our members’ advocacy for the electrification of school buses has been heard by the administration. Stay tuned for more ways to help make sure this funding is used for the cleanest available technology and invested in communities that need it most.