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Utah to get a small share of the fed’s $1B for electric school buses

The Salt Lake City School District is currently the only district in Utah with fully electric buses. Six of the district's eight are seen here, May 31, 2022.
Jon Reed
The Salt Lake City School District is currently the only district in Utah with fully electric buses. Six of the district's eight are seen here, May 31, 2022.

Nearly 400 school districts spanning all 50 states and Washington, D.C., along with several tribes and U.S. territories, are receiving roughly $1 billion in grants to purchase about 2,500 “clean” school buses under a new federal program.

The Biden administration is making the grants available as part of a wider effort to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles and reduce air pollution near schools and communities.

School districts identified as priority areas serving low-income, rural or tribal students make up 99% of the projects that were selected, the White House said.

Two Utah communities have received awards. Eureka in Juab County’s Tintic School District will get $790,000 for two buses, and Vernal in the Uintah County School District will get $3,950,000 for 10 buses.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announced the grant awards Wednesday in Seattle. The new, mostly electric school buses will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

“We are witnessing around our country and around the world the effects of extreme climate,” Harris said. “What we’re announcing today is a step forward in our nation’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses, to invest in our economy ... to invest in building the skills of America’s workforce. All with the goal of not only saving our children, but for them, saving our planet.''

Only about 1% of the nation’s 480,000 school buses were electric as of last year, but the push to abandon traditional diesel buses has gained momentum in recent years. Money for the new purchases is available under the federal Clean School Bus Program, which includes $5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed last year.

Regan called this “just the beginning of our work to ... reduce climate pollution and ensure the clean, breathable air that all our children deserve.''

In Utah, a few districts have buses that run on cleaner burning fuels like compressed natural gas, but only the Salt Lake School District has fully electric buses. Those buses are part of a partnership with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The EPA initially made $500 million available for clean buses in May but increased that to $965 million in September, responding to what officials called overwhelming demand for electric buses across the country. An additional $1 billion is set to be awarded in the budget year that began Oct. 1.

The EPA said it received about 2,000 applications requesting nearly $4 billion for more than 12,000 buses, mostly electric. A total of 389 applications worth $913 million were accepted to support purchase of 2,463 buses, 95% of which will be electric, the EPA said. The remaining buses will run on compressed natural gas or propane.

More applications are under review, and the EPA plans to select more winners to reach the full $965 million in coming weeks.

Utah has another 10 districts on the waiting list, including Duchesne, Granite, Morgan, Piute, Park City and Salt Lake City.

This story was written by Matthew Daly of the Associated Press. KUER’s Elaine Clark contributed additional reporting.

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