Following Volkswagen’s vehicle emissions scandal, Kentucky stands to receive $20.3 million as part of a nationwide settlement and school districts across the state are hoping some of that money will help them replace old, inefficient, high-emission diesel school buses.
A federal court in 2016 approved the $14.73 billion settlement with $4.7 billion designated “to mitigate pollution … and invest in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) technology and infrastructure” in the U.S., according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC).
The agreement specifies the money may be used to replace or repower certain model buses, including school buses, according School Transportation News.
Many states have already allocated all or some of their settlement funds toward replacing old diesel-powered buses with either propane, electric or newer diesel school buses. In Michigan, $13 million is being used for school bus replacement and in Louisiana $18 million was dedicated to replacing old diesel school buses under a formula that will pay for 50 percent of propane buses and 25 percent of new diesel buses.
Kentucky’s initial plan for the settlement money, released in August, allocated 80 percent of the available funds toward “eligible transit buses,” with no funds marked for school bus replacement.
“We had hoped that the state plan would recommend explicitly dedicating a portion of the state’s share of settlement to grants to districts to help them replace old, inefficient and at this point unsafe buses with new, cleaner, more efficient, safer and cheaper to maintain alternative fuel buses,” said Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association.
Many state’s initial proposals, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Missouri and North Carolina, prioritized school buses, though a few others used the same approach as Kentucky and prioritized government-owned transit.
KSBA continues to advocate for the legislature to earmark settlement funds for school buses and included the issue as one of its top priorities this legislative session.
“At this point, no settlement funds may be spent without the final, express direction of the General Assembly. Either in this session or more likely in the next annual session as part of the state budget process,” Kennedy said. “We hope that the legislators will direct that a substantial portion of the funds be granted to districts for school buses. This would, among other things, help to more fully fund the overall district transportation costs which are already underfunded by the state, so in a way it addresses two issues.”
As of October, there were only 59 propane buses out of the approximate 9,822 school buses currently used in Kentucky.
Propane-powered buses emit 85 percent less nitrogen oxides than many of the older, traditional diesel models currently on the road, according to the Kentucky Propane Education and Research Council (KYPERC). They also get better gas mileage and have the lowest total cost of ownership.
Crittenden County Schools started using one propane bus in 2013 as part of a pilot program, then quickly added seven more as the district saw significant benefits.
Elisa Hanley, Kentucky Department of Education pupil transportation section supervisor, said at the time that the fuel cost per mile was 52 cents for a diesel bus and just 23 cents per mile for a propane bus.
Today, Crittenden County’s fleet includes 19 propane-powered school buses. Crittenden County, while unique in its major investment in propane buses, serves as a model for other communities looking to embrace cleaner, more efficient transportation.
The benefits do not stop there. Franklin County Schools Transportation Director Brad McKinney told the Frankfort State-Journal that, in addition to lower emissions, “they get warmer faster, which is really important on cold mornings, and aren’t as noisy.”