Financial analyst and volunteer with MN350’s Clean Transportation Team
The future is electric, and that future is one step closer to reality today. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has announced that it received applications for more than 40 electric school buses for a $3 million proposed pilot project. The funds are allocated from Minnesota’s portion of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal settlement funds, which the MPCA is responsible for administering in the state. This $47 million is available to mitigate the impacts of the harmful particulates and nitrogen oxides emissions from the Volkswagen vehicles sold in the state.
Unfortunately, in the first phase of grant funding distributed in 2018 and 2019, the MPCA gave significant funds to fossil-fuel powered vehicles, including funding more than 100 diesel and propane-powered school buses. No electric school buses were funded.
MN350’s Clean Transportation Team, along with other climate and environmental justice groups, saw the missed opportunity to maximize the climate, air quality, and environmental justice benefits of these funds. The team responded by pushing the MPCA to prioritize funding for electric vehicles in the second phase of grants, including specific funding for electric school buses. School buses offer a unique opportunity to protect vulnerable children, bus drivers, and all of the community members near schools and along major roadways, generating significant health impacts for those who are typically exposed to harmful diesel exhaust.
Throughout 2019, the team closely monitored the MPCA’s proposed plan for funding and engaged the public in the process to submit comments and attend public hearings. In particular, MN350 encouraged the MPCA to increase the grant amounts for electric vehicles to compensate for the higher upfront costs of these technologies. We heard from school districts and bus operators that funding the gap between fossil fuel-powered buses and electric alternatives is essential to justify the purchase.
The MPCA heard this demand for climate justice and responded by allocating $3 million for an electric school bus pilot project, including funding up to $275,000 per bus. After little interest had been shown for previous finding opportunities of $20,000 and $100,000 per bus, school districts and bus operators flocked to the pilot project, with 19 applications for more than 40 buses. Expect to see the six to ten buses chosen through this application process on Minnesota roads in 2022. In addition, at least 65% of the $23.5 million available funds from phase two will go exclusively to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, a significant win for the advocates for a clean transportation future.
A special thank you to all of the MN350 volunteers and supporters who engaged in this process and helped to ensure cleaner air for these students and local communities. In the meantime, help further clean transportation initiatives in the state by connecting with the team’s staff organizer, Madi, at email@example.com.
Daniel Tikk is a financial analyst and a volunteer with MN350’s Clean Transportation Team. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, and the two of them devote their time and energy to trying to keep up with their toddler. He loves reading, swimming, exploring the Twin Cities food scene, and learning about how to be a better human, bit by bit.