On November 1, Rebekah Ashley, Lead Organizer for Climate & Energy at the Utah Chapter, participated in a national Sierra Club panel. The discussion centered around Utah's work in electrifying the bus fleet through the Inflation Reduction Action.
When it comes to school transportation, school buses represent the largest public transportation fleet in the country. The Sierra Club is thrilled to announce that within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there is $1 Billion allocated every year until 2026 to transition to electric and low-emission fuel school buses. Watch the event panel here:
Utah Leading the Charge: Transitioning to Clean Energy
Here in Utah, the Sierra Club has played a pivotal role in organizing for the electrification and transition to clean energy of Utah school districts. With the dedication of advocates in Salt Lake City, the local school district has committed to using 100 percent clean, renewable energy in its electricity sector by 2030, currently boasting the largest electric bus fleet in the state.
Expanding Opportunities: The Clean School Bus Program
Thanks to the funding available through the Clean School Bus Program, more school districts in our state have the opportunity to pursue electrification. Since the passage of the IIJA and the program's launch last year, the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter has been actively involved in building awareness and providing outreach to school districts across the state to access this historic funding opportunity.
Sierra Club staff and volunteers have been instrumental in hosting workshops and community meetings to demystify electric school bus technology. These efforts aim to inform and engage students, teachers, fleet managers, and school district leaders about the benefits of electric buses. Volunteers have written letters, made calls, and provided public testimonies, pressuring school district boards to seek funding for electric school buses.
Success Stories: Bipartisan Support for Electric Buses in Utah
And it’s worked! By the end of 2022, we saw a growing trend in bipartisan support for electric school buses in our state, with twelve school districts that applied for the program, ranging from large, urban districts to smaller, rural districts and districts that serve energy communities. Ten of the districts that applied in 2022 were placed on a waitlist, while two districts, the Uintah School District and Tintic District, received funding for electric buses. Both of these selected districts are located in rural communities and serve energy and former mining communities. The Uintah School District is in the Uintah Basin, the largest natural gas producer in the state. We commend the EPA for its decision to allocate Clean School Bus funds to these communities, and we remain committed to supporting electrification efforts in rural, Tribal, and low-come communities.
Environmental Equity: Tackling Public Health Challenges
Besides helping achieve climate resilience, electrifying school buses will have major equity and public health benefits for students. Diesel exhaust, a known carcinogen, is up to 12 times more polluting than what children would encounter riding to school in a regular car. Communities of color, working-class communities, and children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this pollution.
Switching to electric school buses is not just about clean air; it's about addressing environmental injustice in our communities. Electric buses produce zero tailpipe emissions, are quieter, and more pleasant to ride. This transition can also save school districts money on maintenance and operations, contributing to healthier school budgets.
Advocacy in Action: Prioritizing Electric Buses
While the Clean School Bus funding aims to prioritize low-income and rural communities facing higher levels of climate pollution, collective action is crucial. The Sierra Club urges local school districts to both apply for the funds and prioritize 100% electric buses over other "low-emission fuel" options like propane.
The IIJA allows funding to go to propane-fueled buses, making it imperative for all climate advocates to ensure electric buses are prioritized. Tailpipe pollution significantly contributes to unhealthy levels of smog and soot, making the shift to electric transit critical for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and positioning school districts as leaders in the climate movement.
Join the Sierra Club Utah Chapter in Electrifying School Bus Fleets
It's time for our state's school systems to abandon diesel buses that endanger our health, communities, and students. Achieving this transition requires collective effort, and the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter stands as a resource, ready to support others nationwide in electrifying their county's bus fleets as part of this historic opportunity presented by the IIJA. We invite you to join us in this crucial endeavor