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EPA offering grants to rural Tennessee counties to run new, ‘clean’ school buses

Natural gas buses emit less air pollution than traditional alternatives, but they emit similar amounts of carbon pollution.
Julia Ritchey
Natural gas buses emit less air pollution than traditional alternatives, but they emit similar amounts of carbon pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency identified roughly 80 school districts in Tennessee for first dibs in “clean” school bus funding.

Prioritized school districts were identified as high-need, low-income, rural or, in the case of some other states, funded under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Locally, the Department of Children’s Services Education Division in Nashville and Dickson, Hickman, Stewart and Trousdale counties were selected as priority districts.

The rebate program was created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 with the purpose of replacing old, diesel-powered buses with cleaner vehicles.

“This historic investment under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will forever transform school bus fleets across the United States,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “These funding opportunities to replace older, heavily-polluting buses will result in healthier air for many of the 25 million American children who rely on school buses, many of whom live in overburdened and underserved communities. Today, we take a major step toward a future where clean, zero-emissions school buses are the American standard.”

Diesel buses are linked to asthma and other health problems, so removing them from places where children can linger for long periods of time will help better protect their health, according to the EPA.

Buses eligible for funding must run on electricity, compressed natural gas or propane.

Electric school buses have zero tailpipe pollution, and they have fewer greenhouse gas emissions anywhere in the country, though the scale varies depending on the generation sources of the local electricity.

Conventional natural gas vehicles do not offer real climate pollution benefits, since natural gas is mostly methane that becomes carbon dioxide when burned. But the vehicles can emit less nitrogen oxides (the main constituent of ground-level ozone) and particulate matter than diesel. Additionally, natural gas captured from landfills or livestock operations can reduce direct methane emissions.

Propane, which is also called liquified petroleum gas, can produce lower amounts of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, depending on vehicle type, drive cycle and engine calibration, according to the Department of Energy.