A wrinkle is getting called out in the EPA’s nascent Clean School Bus program, which is providing billions of dollars to subsidize purchase of new zero- and low-emissions buses.
A scrappage clause tied to grant funds requires a polluting diesel bus to be removed from service for each new clean-running bus receiving a grant.
But there’s a chance this might disadvantage the same lower-income communities who’d benefit most from removing diesel exhaust.
Lower-income communities may be likelier to contract out for 3rd party service, rather than own fleet assets, and this implicates a potential systemic environmental justice issue to watch.
Scrappage requirements aren’t anything new, and have been a feature of existing programs providing similar funding (at smaller scales), like the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act or with the VW Mitigation Trust established after Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal.
A bus owner literally needs to drill a big hole through a dirty bus’ engine block to prove it’ll never run again.
This type of requirement – in policy-speak – is meant to ensure public funds are verifiably “buying” ongoing reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NOX), and fine particulate matter (PM2).
The big HOWEVER: many U.S. school districts do not own their own buses. In states like New York and Connecticut and others, most school districts don’t own fleets.
Instead, buses are owned by third-party contractors providing fleet service to districts. This means they are in the prime position and applicants and grant recipients.
The problem identified is that third-party fleet owners may not be eager to retire diesel buses that are still in operation or still depreciating. At least, not in numbers equivalent to the number of new clean buses desired by a school district. The contractor company might instead prefer to rotate their fleet units elsewhere, but not remove them from the road.
Providers do re-balance their fleets, for reasons of maintenance schedules and/or local contract terms. But when they do, it’s possible the emissions reductions publicly “bought” on paper may differ from those in practice.
Communities that contract with third parties have fewer levers to pull to get their desired outcome, as diesel scrappage might ultimately be the prerogative of the contractor.
For these school districts, the main lever to influence outcomes arrives during the process of bidding out the service contract – the Request For Proposals.
Terms could be added to contracts that require ambitions toward a clean fleet. But I have yet to see model language to help communities pull that lever.
Associations of school administrators, business offices, and boards of education should be working with their state air regulators and with major contractors to hammer out language that would:
1) make it easier for school districts that contract-out to take full advantage of the EPA’s Clean School Bus program; and
2) curb the possibility of unintended environmental justice inequities.
This issue was identified through a CleanTechnica article at the following link:
(The article opens by identifying the Clean School Bus program as tied to the Inflation Reduction Act, however it was funded through the earlier Bipartisan Infrastructure Law)