Northam pledges $20 million to electric school bus purchases

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After deliberately evading federal emissions standards, Volkswagen was forced to pay out billions in compensation. Now Gov. Ralph Northam has pledged to put $20 million of Virginia’s portion of that settlement toward the purchase of zero-emission school buses.

The new program, which will be run by the Department of Environmental Quality, will allow public school districts starting in 2020 to apply for funds for electric school buses, with a small amount of money set aside for propane buses.

Most of Virginia’s school buses are currently fueled by diesel, and according to the governor’s office, more than 500 of them use engines built before the establishment of federal diesel standards. If 75 of them — the approximate number that can be replaced with $20 million — were to go electric, the administration calculated that 36 million fewer pounds of greenhouse gases would be emitted in Virginia each year.

According to figures presented to the Air Pollution Control Board last week, vehicles produce about 46 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, making them the largest single contributor to pollution linked to climate change.

Northam called the initiative “a significant investment in the electrification of our transportation system, in our efforts to address the climate crisis, and in an environment that allows Virginia children to learn, grow, and thrive.”

The announcement comes in the wake of a similar promise by Dominion Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, to replace 50 diesel school buses with electric buses by 2020 and increase that number to 1,000 by 2025.