State begins rolling out $20 million in Volkswagen money for electric school buses

State begins rolling out $20 million in Volkswagen money for electric school buses
A school bus in Richmond. (Source: Scott Elmquist/ Style Weekly)

Although plans to replace Virginia school districts’ diesel buses with electric ones have foundered in the General Assembly, the state is moving forward with bus electrification plans using money from Volkswagen’s so-called “Dieselgate” scandal.

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced it would make $20 million of the state’s Volkswagen settlement funds available for school districts to electrify their bus fleets.

“We have an existing pot of money we’re working to get out the door as soon as possible, and a school bus program is a perfect fit,” said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Chris Bast. Furthermore, he added, the funding “provides an opportunity that is no-strings-attached that is different than a lot of the other funding opportunities out there for school buses.”

Virginia received $93.6 million through a settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government over allegations that the company installed devices in vehicles between 2009 and 2016 to cheat emissions tests in order to evade Clean Air Act emissions limits.

Virginia DEQ, which is responsible for administering the settlement funds, has so far earmarked $82 million for transportation electrification projects.

Northam pledged to put $20 million of those funds toward electric school buses in 2019. That amount is expected to cover the extra costs of replacing about 75 diesel buses with electric ones.

Electrifying school bus fleets “is another important part of our comprehensive approach to reducing climate pollution,” said DEQ Director David Paylor in a statement.

Transportation emissions are responsible for almost half of Virginia’s greenhouse gas emissions, one of the primary drivers of climate change.

According to data provided by the governor’s office, approximately 99 percent of Virginia’s public school buses use diesel.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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