Legislation requiring New Jersey DEP to develop and implement electric school bus program headed to Governor’s desk to be signed into law

Legislation requiring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to develop and implement an electric school bus program is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk to be signed into law.

Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, sponsored the legislation (S759), which is designed to determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric counterparts for the daily transportation of students.

“School buses are known to emit greenhouse gases and carcinogens, both of which contribute to climate change and threaten exposed individuals with elevated lifetime risks of developing cancer, asthma, and heart disease,” Diegnan said, noting the electric school bus program’s implementation will provide students with a healthier and more environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

More than 800,000 New Jersey students ride to and from school during the academic year on one of the state’s 15,000 diesel school buses. Many school districts also rely on buses to transport students to sporting events, band competitions, field trips, and other activities.

Children riding school buses are exposed to 4 to 12 times higher levels of toxic exhaust in comparison to individuals riding in a car, according to a report published in the Journal of Health Economics.

A 2019 Georgia State University study found that diesel pollution from school buses had a significant negative impact on children’s aerobic capacity and academic performance.

Diegnan’s bill would fund for three years the purchase of new electric school buses and the necessary charging infrastructure in a minimum of 18 New Jersey school districts.

At least half of those districts would be located in a “low-income, urban, or environmental justice community,” whose population is particularly vulnerable.

Implementing an electric school bus program presents promising opportunities for improving public health and decarbonizing New Jersey’s transportation sector, which is responsible for 46 percent of the state’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

From passenger cars to tractor trailers, Murphy has established New Jersey as a leader for electric transportation.

“As a state, we have goals to significantly lower our carbon emissions and become a greener place to live,” Diegnan said. “Transitioning from the conventional diesel-fueled buses to those with zero emissions will significantly decrease our state’s pollution levels.”

The mass adoption of electric school bus technology comes with challenges. The sticker price of a new electric school bus, for example, can be nearly triple that of a new diesel bus, making it difficult for school districts to afford making an immediate transition.

Electric school buses, however, are cheaper to own over the life of the vehicles than diesel alternatives due to a combination of lower fuel and maintenance costs and because vehicle-to-grid capabilities would allow school districts to sell electric buses’ stored energy back to the utility.

A University of Delaware study estimates one electric school bus could save a district about $230,000 over its 14-year lifespan.

“The up-front costs of these buses may seem high, however, the long-term economic and environmental benefits are much greater,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The economic and environmental benefits of using electric school buses far outweigh using diesel buses. We will save money and reduce greenhouse emissions. More importantly, our children will be able to breathe easier.”

Representatives from more than two dozen environmental, educational and contractor communities signed on earlier this month to a letter supporting Diegnan’s legislation.

The coalition included New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Sean Spiller, as well as representatives from the NAACP State Chapter, American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, Communication Workers of America Local 1036, New Jersey Public Health Association, New Jersey State Nurses Association, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Diegnan’s bill requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to design a transparent outreach and application process to facilitate the selection of no less than six school districts and bus contractors annually for participation in the program.

The department is to use its best efforts to select an equal number of grantees from the state’s northern, central, and southern regions.

The department is to award grants to districts or bus contractors selected to participate in the program to purchase or lease electric school buses and to purchase or lease and install electric school bus charging infrastructure.

The department is to provide $15 million annually in grants, subject to availability, for the duration of the three-year program. The department may use available monies to provide grants from Societal Benefits Charge revenues and the “Global Warming Solutions Fund.”

The bill requires the districts or bus contractors selected to participate in the program to submit reports to the department detailing the cost to operate electric school buses, maintenance records, transponder data, and details of any reliability issues related to the operation of the buses.

The department is to establish a working group that is to meet regularly to review the reports and recommend solutions to any issue raised in reports submitted by a program participant.

“This bill has great language on partnering with DEP and to make sure we are getting those buses all across New Jersey,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

“I’m incredibly excited for this bill because, ultimately, this should be the last generation of New Jersey school children that breathe in diesel emissions, which obviously have a direct impact on their lungs and the quality of their lives.

“That’s ultimately what this is about, making cleaner air for our kids.”

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