School buses often are idling curbside at your neighborhood bus stop or lined up in front of schools dropping off or picking up students.

While I, like many parents, am happy to have our kids in school for a year of learning, adventure and academics, I’m worried about the harmful elements they’re exposed to from bus exhaust.

That’s why I’m so excited about an agreement the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy recently signed that paves the way for seven Michigan school districts to buy a total of 17 electric buses that will replace dirtier diesel-powered models that are at least 10 years old.

Our bus replacement pilot program is a collaboration between EGLE’s Materials Management Division and the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation, which convened stakeholders in support of cleaner air, alternative fuel options, and a safer environment for children. Money came from a $4.2 million grant through Michigan’s Fuel Transformation program, which leverages non-taxpayer money from the allocation to the state of Michigan from Volkswagen’s diesel testing settlement.

If you live in areas served by Ann Arbor, Roseville, Gaylord, Kalamazoo, Zeeland, Three Rivers and Oxford schools you’ll soon see zero-emission buses by Lion Electric Co. and Thomas Built Buses / Proterra idling cleanly and quietly at the bus stop or outside schools. The buses will also reduce the amount of harmful pollutants from exhaust that enters buildings and classrooms, affecting students, teachers and staff.

That will translate into a healthier, cleaner environment for students not just in those districts, but also for the communities they serve, since exhaust from diesel-powered buses expose children, parents and those who live and work along bus routes to exhaust fumes and particulates. Diesel exhaust contaminants include over 40 substances listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as either hazardous air pollutants or criteria pollutants, such as nitric oxides and nitrogen dioxide. Combustion of fossil fuels is also a major source of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants, such as ozone.

Fewer diesel fumes from idling buses will have a lasting effect on a student’s ability to do better in school. Cleaner air can mean fewer health impacts from dirty air on children — especially the nearly 9 percent of Michigan students 17 and younger who reported having asthma, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance. Fewer sick days means students won’t fall behind on their studies.

One of this administration’s priorities is to give students the tools they need to succeed in school, and exposure to fewer pollutants is an important step in that process.

The buses won’t be just a benefit outside the classroom, they’ll also supplement STEM studies and offer opportunities for learning about the environment, new technology, climate change and EVs.

The buses are just one example of a revolution in transportation that we here at EGLE are excited to be a part of.

Our Office of Climate and Energy is working closely with Michigan State University researchers to map out ideal locations and number of EV chargers along well-traveled Michigan highways in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The study will leverage nearly $10 million over the next three years to locate DC fast chargers as part of a public network, reducing “range anxiety” among drivers and making it easier to consider drive an electric as you shop for your next vehicle.

Whether it’s electric cars or buses, we’re on the cusp of something big. Automakers are all in on electrics, chargers are being installed in public and private locations to make travel more convenient, and schools are doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint.

So, look out for those electric buses that are hitting the streets near you. All 17 are expected to be on the road soon. This is a step in the right direction for our children, our schools and our environment. It’s wonderful to see how everyone is working together and doing their part to make an impact in our state.

About the author: Liesl Clark is director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. This guest commentary first appeared in Bridge Magazine, an online publication of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Michigan.

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