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Northam announces grants to replace 83 diesel school buses with clean alternatives

Southampton County Public Schools receiving two electric buses

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Aug. 19 more than $10.5 million in funds from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, will go to replace 83 diesel school buses with electric and propane buses in 19 school districts across the commonwealth, including Southampton County Public Schools.

Ralph Northam

A press release from the office of the governor continued, stating that by providing funds for clean school buses, the Department of Environmental Quality will help Virginia achieve clean energy goals, reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change. The grant that provides the money for this initiative came from a trust funded by the Volkswagen settlement that is working to reduce emissions and support environmental programs.

“We all benefit from transitioning away from diesel school buses and investing in clean alternatives for our transportation system,” Northam said. “I know how important clean air is for children’s health. Since I took office, the commonwealth has been focused on transforming the electric grid, developing clean energy resources and addressing the climate crisis through initiatives that allow Virginia to invest in a clean and healthy future.”

Northam announced the launch of the $20 million program in May 2021 to help transition school buses away from diesel and toward cleaner fuels like electricity and propane. The program’s investments in clean alternatives, which are intended to reduce harmful vehicle pollution, have helped accelerate an equitable transition to a cleaner economy for all Virginians.

“It is encouraging to see how successful the funds from the Volkswagen settlement have been in supporting clean alternatives for transportation,” Attorney General Mark Herring said. “We have been clear that Virginia’s environment is a top priority. I am proud that this settlement is being used to support important causes, like providing clean, safe and healthy transportation for children going to and from school.”

The attorney general’s office announced a settlement with Volkswagen in 2016 that committed $2.7 billion to environmental mitigation. This settlement has provided the funding for many eco-friendly initiatives across the commonwealth. The attorney general’s negotiations of this settlement secured resources for environmental causes for many years to come and reinforces Virginia’s commitment to a clean economy.

“The Northam administration has remained committed to fighting the impacts of climate change and finding solutions that help Virginians every day,” Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Matthew J. Strickler said. “Replacing aging and dirty buses is not only better for the health of school children, it also saves school divisions tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a bus and helps advance Virginia’s clean energy goals.”

“Virginia’s investments in electrifying the school bus fleets is an important and critical part of our comprehensive approach to reducing pollution,” Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said. “Collectively, the replacement of these school buses is calculated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10,000 tons per year and will save one million gallons of diesel fuel, equivalent to removing 2,000 cars from the road.”

Award recipients for the first round of clean school bus alternatives include Southampton County Public Schools, which will receive $530,000 for two electric buses.

In September 2019, Northam directed $20 million from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust to support new initiatives aimed at deploying electric school buses across the commonwealth.

“Many of our families struggle to make ends meet,” Halifax County Public Schools Director of Transportation Tammy Lacks Moore said. “These funds will enable us to replace 10 diesel buses without raising taxes on our already burdened population, all while making sure we are doing everything we can to help improve our community.”

“The clean bus award will make a powerful impact for Essex County Public Schools and advance our transition to an electric fleet,” Essex County Public Schools Transportation Supervisor Crystal Blowe said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Essex County students to ride the bus to and from school in an emissions-free environment.”

“Being selected to receive funds for 10 propane buses expands our ability to provide safe, reliable and clean transportation for our students who deserve nothing but the best,” Newport News Public Schools Director of Transportation Shay Coates said. “As a major organization within our community, we feel we must set the example in protecting our environment.”

The Department of Environmental Quality is responsible for distributing Virginia’s share of $93.6 million from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust by investing in a diverse range of technologies that provide cost-effective, near-term emission benefits coupled with zero-emission technologies that provide long-term benefits. 

To date, approximately $62 million has been awarded for innovative projects including electric transit, school and shuttle buses, electric equipment at the Port of Virginia and the development of a statewide electric-vehicle charging network.

The Department of Environmental Quality will begin accepting applications in October for an additional round of funds for public school districts to purchase more propane or electric school buses. 

Additional information on the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and efforts to reduce air pollution in Virginia is available at the Department of Environmental Quality’s website — www.deq.virginia.gov/get-involved/topics-of-interest/volkswagen-settlement-agreement.