Traffic police check the tires of electric school buses in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, China, on August 25, 2020. (Photo: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

NY Leaders Commit to Nation's First Fully Zero-Emission School Bus Fleet

"This is a historic win for the over two million students who ride the bus to school in New York."

"New York, a clean ride for kids is coming your way!"

So declared the Electric School Bus Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI) on Friday after Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an agreement on a budget that includes a historic plan to fully electrify the state's fleet of school buses.

Specifically, the plan calls for all new school bus purchases to be electric starting in 2027, and for the state's whole fleet to be by 2035. Environmental groups applauding the move said it puts New York on the path to becoming the first state in the nation with a zero-emission school bus fleet.

As the New York League of Conservation Voters explained ahead of the vote:

In her State of the State address, Hochul proposed a commitment to achieving 100% electric school buses in New York state by 2035, with all new school bus purchases required to be fully electric starting in 2027. Gov. Hochul's executive budget advanced legislation to codify this goal and make a number of technical changes to how state education aid for school districts is structured in order to help cover costs associated with new electric buses. Many of these changes were first suggested in legislation sponsored by Sen. Tim Kennedy [D-63] and Assemblymember Pat Fahy [D-109], who have been strong legislative leaders on electric buses.

Both houses of the legislature included a version of Gov. Hochul's electric school bus proposal in their one house budgets, meaning that all parties agree that our school bus fleet should be 100% electric by 2035. The Senate's version of the legislation strengthened the governor's proposal by requiring [the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] to provide technical assistance to school districts as they navigate the transition to 100% electric buses and requiring the state to develop a roadmap to identify barriers to the 100% by 2035 goal so that they may be addressed early. The Senate also proposed $1 billion for zero-emission transportation, including school buses, as part of an expanded Environmental Bond Act.

Hochul announced the agreement on the budget Thursday.

The public health impacts of the current fossil fuel-powered buses made the need for action clear, according to groups supporting the shift.

Justin Balik, senior manager of state policy for transportation electrification at WRI, said the budget could usher in a new era "in which children are no longer forced to inhale toxic diesel exhaust and instead breathe clean air on electric buses."

"This is a historic win for the over two million students who ride the bus to school in New York," he said, "and especially for those young people from underserved communities, who too often bear the impact of diesel and other pollution. "

The benefits extend well beyond the immediate ones to public health.

As a 2021 report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund noted, "Electric buses can expand and stabilize the grid, provide surplus energy storage, and increase energy demand."

"By providing discounted rates on electric bus charging and building charging infrastructure, utilities can help speed the adoption of electric buses," the publication found. "Utilities can also support electric buses by investing in infrastructure for bus charging in depots and on routes, helping to finance the upfront purchasing costs of electric buses, and introducing smart charging systems to maximize integration of renewable energy."

As the WRI put it in a tweet Friday: "These pollution-free buses will give kids the safe ride to school that they deserve."

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