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CT to get federal money to buy 50 electric school buses

School buses are parked in Hartford in June 2020.
Yehyun Kim
/
CT Mirror
School buses are parked in Hartford in June 2020.

Connecticut will receive federal funding to purchase 50 electric school buses for two school districts as the Biden administration continues rolling out its infrastructure plans.

A Connecticut-based bus company is one of 67 recipients to receive an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its Clean School Bus Program Grants Competition, which aims to improve air quality for students and boost manufacturing. The program’s funding was included in the bipartisan infrastructure law signed in 2021.

The EPA plans to dole out nearly $1 billion to go toward more than 2,700 electric and low-emission school buses in 280 school districts across the country. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said it is the second round of funding for a five-year, $5 billion program.

The exact funding for Connecticut has not been finalized since it is part of a multi-state award through the New England Electric Bus Initiative. The tentative recipient is DATTCO, Inc., the New Britain-based company that provides bus transportation for some school districts in Connecticut and other states in the region.

The proposed budget would provide a total of about $33 million to DATTCO for 85 electric buses across five school districts in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

For Connecticut, it will get a portion of that grant to purchase 25 buses for Hartford Public Schools and another 25 for Connecticut’s technical schools.

Hartford was among the prioritized school districts that are either in high-need, rural or tribal communities. The vast majority of the grants – 86% – went to prioritized districts.

“Traditional yellow school buses that so many of us remember rely on internal combustion engines that emit toxic pollution into the air,” Regan told reporters on Monday. “Not only are these pollutants harmful to the environment, but they can also be harmful to the health and well-being of every student, every bus driver and every resident in surrounding communities.”

Federal lawmakers from Connecticut have been involved in a years-long effort to provide more funding for a transition from diesel-powered to electric school buses.

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, first introduced the Clean School Bus Act in 2019 along with Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, to set up a similar grant program.

Hayes also pushed for funding in 2021 to replace diesel buses with electric ones, as well as for the inclusion of these efforts in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed Congress that year.

“Since I came to Congress in 2019, I have advocated for clean school bus funding and tirelessly fought for inclusion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” Hayes said in a statement. “The nearly $1 billion investment, announced by the Biden-Harris Administration today, will save Connecticut school districts money, create good-paying clean energy jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protecting people and the planet.”

Connecticut has previously received some funding through the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebate program. Cornwall, Sharon and Regional District No. 1 in far northwestern Connecticut each received a rebate for one electric bus. School districts can apply for the 2023 rebate program by Jan. 31 with selection planned for April.

But making the transition to electric and low-emissions buses for schools is expected to face some hurdles with the need to significantly scale up the infrastructure to help them operate.

A recent audit from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General found that the goals of the program could be undermined because of demands on utility companies related to power supply and charging stations.

“While early coordination with utilities is not a requirement, it could prevent the Agency from achieving its objective to remove older diesel buses and replace them with clean buses. The increased demand on utility companies may impact the timeliness of replacing diesel buses,” the audit reads.

“While utility infrastructure is not funded through the program, we found that there could be delays in utilities constructing the needed charging stations to make the buses fully operational in a timely manner,” it continues.

When asked about the audit’s findings, Regan told reporters that he is in contact with the inspector general’s office as well as CEOs at electric utility companies, whom he claimed are “excited” about electric vehicles for all different uses.

“I have no doubt that our electricity system can handle this transition that, by the way, the market is demanding. We’re excited about this transition,” said Regan, adding that the White House is “thinking about it through the lens of economic development, job growth … good paying union jobs and the environmental health and climate benefits.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

The story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.