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Washington Considers Mandating Electric School Buses by 2035

Proposed legislation in Washington state would require school districts to purchase emission-free school buses beginning in 2035, although distance limits and lack of charging infrastructure are potential obstacles.

A line of yellow electric school buses parked and plugged into charge.
(Lion Electric)
(TNS) — The wheels on Washington's roughly 10,000 school buses will continue to go round and round, but what powers those wheels could change.

New legislation could require Washington school districts to purchase zero-emission school buses. The bill, SB-5431, would require districts to purchase emission-free school buses beginning in 2035, one of several pieces of legislation discussed during a Feb. 1 senate education hearing.

A fiscal note, which estimates the cost, is not yet available.

"Zero emission school buses on the market today feature reduced fuel, operations, and maintenance costs compared to their fossil-fueled counterparts," the bill reads. "Zero emission school buses also have significant public health benefits for children and are part of a broad-based policy approach to slowing the environmental consequences of climate change."

Testimony featured educators and experts from around the state who claimed the bill would improve student health. Jill Denny, a physician, testified on behalf of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"Not only does bus exhaust contribute to air pollution on a community level, a University of a Washington study found that the air quality inside typical combustion-based school buses is worse than the surrounding roadway's air quality," Denny said in her testimony. "In other words, a child is breathing in more pollutants inside their school bus than they were waiting at the bus stop."

Leah Missik of Climate Solutions also testified in support of the bill, telling the committee the proposal supports student health while also reducing emissions.

"Diesel exhaust is a carcinogen and it's linked to brain development impacts," Messik said. "And it's just really sad that we put kids in this situation when we have alternatives, which we do."

Amy Cast, a school board member at the North Shore School District, voiced support while offering several improvements. Cast also spoke of the current challenges of operating electric buses.

According to Cast, North Shore, which sits on the northern shore of Lake Washington, can't drive its fleet of buses across the state to athletic competitions in Spokane.

"There's no charging infrastructure publicly available for buses, so that really impacts how much of our fleet that we'll be able to electrify," Cast said.

Several states in recent years have adopted similar legislation, including New York and Maryland. New school buses purchased in New York must be emission-free by 2027. Beginning in 2025, all new school bus purchases in Maryland must be electric.

The last day of the 2023 legislative session is April 23.

©2023 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.