Missouri’s Unique Opportunity to Help Schools and Students with “Green” Buses Powered by Clean Burning Fuel

Elementary school kids in a school bus

By Steve Ahrens
President/CEO, Missouri Propane Gas Association

Missouri leaders have begun deliberations on how to allocate $41 million in funding received from the VW Clean Air Act Civil Settlement. While many worthy projects are auditioning for a piece of the proceeds, one application stands above the rest: cleaner school buses.

About 12,000 diesel-powered school buses are in operation today in the Show Me State. Of that total, about half are at least 10 years or older. Diesel emissions are known to cause respiratory distress in young children and have been labeled as carcinogens by the World Health Organization.

The goal of the VW settlement is to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from mobile sources. School buses contribute their share of NOx emissions as well as other pollutants. Yet schools are unable to replace those aging, dirty diesel-fueled buses. State funding for school transportation has lagged, including a $39 million reduction last year.

Allowing schools to leverage these funds would not only address funding shortfalls at the state level, but extend the reach of the settlement. In one scenario, local districts and transportation contractors would match at least 25% of the cost of a new bus. If the state offered grants of $50,000, that leverages about $20 million in local funding and removes 800 dirty diesel buses from the road.

More money, more buses, cleaner air, fewer sick kids

Adaptability and fairness are hallmarks of the Clean School Bus Plan. Any school district or transportation contractor could apply for funding, which means both rural and urban schools have a chance to upgrade their fleets. The program is also fuel-neutral. New diesel, CNG, electric and propane models all should be eligible. This allows local districts to choose the technology that works best for them. A metro district with access to CNG refueling may be able to take advantage of that infrastructure; a rural district already served by propane on campus could add fueling equipment for little or no extra cost.

Cleaner school buses are available today, unlike some of the other speculative or distant programs being considered for Missouri support. That’s also important. By devoting the proceeds to school bus replacement, Missouri begins immediately to improve air quality, meet school funding needs and improve student health.

Some states (Louisiana, Oregon) have already prioritized funding for school-bus replacement. Other states have yet to begin the process. Missouri’s decision will be made in the next few weeks, and your input is essential. We believe that the fairest, fastest, cleanest and most actionable solution is to allocate these monies for replacement of older diesel school buses.

To assist local school districts and support the Clean School Bus Plan, MOPERC has pledged up to $1 million in additional incentives for jurisdictions that want to acquire propane-powered buses. This amount would contribute toward the district’s match, or could be used for any other purpose—teachers, school lunches, fuel, etc. Our marketers live, work and raise families in these communities, and we are prepared to make this commitment to effect real results.

I encourage you to engage on this issue. To submit comments, visit the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.

DNR and the Volkswagen Trust Advisory Committee are interested in hearing from you!