Clean school bus programs in Texas have made significant progress toward improving air quality on our state’s school buses, though much work remains to be done according to an analysis EDF just released: “Review of Texas’ Clean School Bus Programs: How Far Have We Come and What Is Still Left to Do?” The report highlights the efforts of state and regional programs in administering clean bus programs, and details the progress made with retrofits and replacements.
Coincidentally, funding opportunities with impending application deadlines were just announced from two different sources, which seek to address the more than 17,000 buses remaining to be retrofitted or replaced (details below). The challenge, as it has always been, is continuing to motivate Texas Independent School Districts to take advantage of this and other available funding.
Health Concerns of Dirty Buses
Diesel engines power most of the estimated 480,000 school buses in the United States. The World Health Organization recently classified diesel exhaust as a known carcinogen, specifically noting a causal link between exposure to diesel exhaust and lung cancer. One of the most dangerous components of diesel exhaust is particulate matter (PM). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is particularly concerned with these smallest-sized particles, because they are known to aggravate asthma, cause lung inflammation, lead to heart problems, and increase the risk of cancer and premature death.
As we have written before (see PARENTS: Act Now Before Funds Run Out for Cleaner School Buses), Texas children riding to school in buses built before 2007 may be breathing air inside the cabin of the bus that contains 5-10 times higher concentrations of PM than found outside the bus. These older bus engines spew nearly 40 toxic substances and smog-forming emissions. Children, who breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults, are therefore exposed to even higher health risks because their lungs are still developing.
As of the 2010-2011 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported that nearly two-thirds of current school buses were over six years old, emitting at least 10 times as much PM as newer buses, and much more in many cases because a large proportion of the fleet is even older. More than 700,000 children are impacted, meaning that nearly half of the students relying on school buses for transportation in Texas still ride dirty buses.
Despite the considerable number of older buses that are still on the road, many of the state bus programs have made considerable progress in turning over fleets. Through the end of the 2011 calendar year, 7,068 buses were retrofitted, 700 buses were replaced, and several other projects related to clean fuels and idle reduction were successfully implemented in Texas. Over $38 million has been spent on these projects, with funding received from the federal and state government, as well as from local donors. This is certainly money well spent in protecting our children’s health from particulate matter.
With momentum from successes to date, our EDF report recommends that communities, ISDs, and government officials carry on the clean school bus momentum by:
- Continuing to seek funding for these types of projects;
- Completing existing clean school bus projects; and
- Investing in these projects through budget and legislative funding allocations.
In addition, as mentioned earlier, two recent funding announcements from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA make more progress possible. Schools need to move quickly though, as these deadlines are approaching.
Under the “Texas Clean School Bus Program,” TCEQ is accepting applications for grants during the next few weeks through November 30. This is a comprehensive program designed to reduce diesel exhaust emissions through school bus retrofits. All public school districts and charter schools in Texas are eligible to apply for this grant. Private schools are not eligible for funding. Public school districts that lease buses are also eligible, according to TCEQ.
EPA also just launched a new rebate funding opportunity for school bus replacements under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. Once more, applicants should act swiftly as the application period is just a month long, from Nov. 13 to Dec. 14. The first round of rebates will be offered as part of a pilot program and will focus on the replacement of older school buses in both public and private fleets. If the pilot proves successful, EPA will look at rebates for other fleet types and technologies.
In conclusion, work still remains to be done to protect the health of Texas children and improve the air quality in and around school buses – until all of Texas’ oldest buses are either replaced or retrofitted. It’s up to those of us who care about kids in Texas to keep this public health issue a priority.