Culpeper County Public Schools plans to phase out older diesel buses for zero-pollution electric buses.

Have you made the switch to an electric vehicle yet? Schools in Culpeper are doing just that.

This school year, the district plans to phase out older, diesel school buses, and is instead replacing them with zero-pollution electric buses.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), a Democrat serving in the Democratic-majority US House of Representatives, joined Culpeper Town Councilmember B. Travis Brown, Julie Kimmel with Moms Clean Air Force, Dan Taylor with BlueGreen Alliance, and Michael Town with Virginia League of Conservation Voters for a tour of one of those buses on Aug. 23.

Together, the group discussed multiple benefits of the coming fleet for which the locality received $80,000. The funds stemmed from two Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs: the 2021 American Rescue Plan Electric School Bus Rebates and the 2021 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates.

The positive aspects Spanberger noted included:

  • Children’s health benefits
  • Likability by bus drivers 
  • How easy it is for the localities
  • Cost of upkeep
  • Cost savings

“I’m so proud that from a federal perspective, we are making investments in our communities and being responsive to the needs on the ground,” Spanberger said.

Riding The Bus

For Kimmel with Moms Clean Air Force, the opportunity to replace the diesel buses hit close to home. Mother to a seven-year-old second grader, Kimmel said that her daughter often regales her with stories from the school bus when she arrives home.

“I still hear more about what happens on the bus every day than about anything she experiences — who she sits with, what games they play, what snacks they eat,” Kimmel said. “School buses capture kids’ imagination. They are present in every family’s life in some way or another.”

However, for some families, certain buses come with safety concerns. Kimmel expressed that especially for children with asthma — approximately 129,000 of whom lived in Virginia in 2018 — long rides on buses could “feel like a matter of life and death.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that outdoor air pollution, including diesel exhaust from school buses, can cause asthma episodes. 

In addition, Moms Clean Air Force listed potential effects of diesel exhaust including:

  • Lung irritation
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Lung and heart damage

“Every new bus on the road has a lifespan of up to 15 years, and that’s 15 more years locked into burning fossil fuels,” Kimmel said. “Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in Virginia and in the country. If we [want to] protect our children’s health and future, we cannot afford to put another fossil fuel-powered bus on the road.”

Paying Off

Local councilman Brown made another point: the fluctuating cost of diesel fuel impacted the area’s budget. 

“Diesel prices are through the roof right now. The county is paying hand over fist, you know, first for children to just [be] put [on] buses. And we haven’t really budgeted for it,” Brown said. “And being able to have a much more steady, much more even keel source of power for our buses — outside of even the environmental issue — is really great to think about as a member of local government.”

Furthermore, the change could bring additional opportunities to the commonwealth, which Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, highlighted.

“What better example and symbol for good paying jobs, innovation, [and] clean air [exists], than a school bus? It’s great,” Town said. “We’re moving in the right direction. We’re getting stuff done. I’m excited to be joining you today to celebrate firsthand an example of how we get stuff done when our elected officials roll up their sleeves — they’re willing to be focused and work together. We can solve big problems. We can better our community.”

Additional Aid

The American Rescue Plan wasn’t the only legislative package that propelled a more environmentally conscious nation. 

President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act — which allocated around $740 billion — into law on Aug. 16. Among other actions, the act will lower energy costs, create jobs, and tackle climate change across America.

Taylor with BlueGreen Alliance noted that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also held major gains.

The federal investment provided funds for needs in infrastructure, including roads, bridges, mass transit, water, resilience, and broadband. Taylor called those investments “good for our climate, good for public health and good for creating union jobs — all things we care about.”

Taylor further noted that the investments demonstrated that there didn’t have to be a choice between a clean environment and good jobs. Rather, both could coexist.