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Up to 18 New Jersey School Districts to Use Electric Buses

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will oversee the $45 million, three-year pilot program, choosing a variety of districts and contractors to test different technological and funding approaches.

New Jersey buses
Doug O'Malley, director at Environment New Jersey, holds up a banner against diesel school buses while testifying on May 12 before the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee considering Bill A1274 requiring DEP to develop and implement an electric school bus program.
Michael Mancuso/TNS
(TNS) — Up to 18 school districts or bus contractors around the state will soon start using electric school buses and charging stations, thanks to a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed Thursday that sets aside $15 million annually for three years for the efforts.

The Assembly passed the bill in May, 47-31, and the Senate passed it in June, 23-15, with two not voting. Some Republican lawmakers called the bill too expensive and a distraction from students’ pandemic-related educational and mental health needs.

The state Department of Environmental Protection will oversee the pilot program, half of which will serve students in low-income or urban communities, or those disproportionately affected by environmental impacts.

The DEP will choose the districts and contractors from among applicants from north, central and southern New Jersey, with contractors making up no more than half of the grant recipients.

“Grants shall be awarded in a manner that both prioritizes equity and tests a variety of technological and funding approaches, including but not limited to outright purchase, leased buses, leveraging of other funding sources, and vehicle-to-grid or vehicle-to-building technologies,” the bill says.

It was not immediately clear which districts would participate or exactly when the program would start.

The first year of the program will come from the state’s general fund, with later years funded by a variety of sources including the Clean Energy Fund, the Global Warming Solutions Fund, utility programs to upgrade electrical infrastructure and other funds.

“These investments will also help New Jersey to reduce its reliance on dirtier fossil fuels that are hastening climate change, extreme heat, and flooding,” said Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette.

More than 800,000 students ride the state’s 15,000 diesel school buses every day.

“On average, children who ride in a diesel-powered school bus are exposed to 4 to 12 times the level of toxic exhaust than riding in a car,” said Senator Linda R. Greenstein, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the bill.

Joseph L. Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities, noted that more than 40 percent of the state’s emissions come from transportation. He hailed the bill as “another step forward” in electrifying the transportation sector.

Democratic sponsors of the bill in the Assembly, Sterley Stanley ( Middlesex), Shama Haider (Bergen), and Britnee N. Timberlake ( Essex, Passaic) said in a statement, “The diesel exhaust from buses negatively impacts our overall health and is a major contributor to climate change.” They said the program will let the state explore the best approaches for electrifying bus fleets in the future.

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