When most people think about school buses, they don’t exactly think of them being environmentally friendly. However, in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey recently announced that he will be replacing more than 280 “aging and presumably high-polluting school buses…at no cost to Arizona taxpayers.” The money for the new buses will come from the “$59 million the state is getting as its share of a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen to replace buses that are at least 15 years old and have more than 100,000 miles on them.”
Back in 2016, Volkswagen agreed to settle a “nationwide lawsuit over the sale of so-called ‘clean diesel’ vehicles being marketed under the VW, Audi, and Porsche labels that were anything but.” As it turns out, the vehicles in question had a ‘defeat device’ “programmed to go into a low-emission mode during testing but then spew out pollutants at much higher, and illegal, levels when actually on the road.”
Eventually, VW pleaded guilty to three felonies, including “defrauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and agreed to $4.3 billion in penalties and another $4.9 billion to address pollution from the supposedly low-emission diesel vehicles,” according to the settlement agreement.
It’s important to note, however, that the $59 million the state of Arizona is receiving from VW “isn’t unrestricted cash.” Instead, there are rules the state has to follow when spending the money. For starters, the money has to “be spent on projects to reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen, the very pollutants that the VW vehicles were spitting out above permissible levels.”
Ducey’s plan of replacing the school buses follow the rules laid out in the mandate because for “each school bus replaced, emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by nearly 1.4 tons over that vehicle’s anticipated 12-year life.”
For now, the schools set to receive the new buses are in districts “where at least 60 percent of students come from families whose income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunches.” Even the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind are expected to get a few of the new buses.
In addition to taking poverty into consideration when determining what schools would receive the buses, Ducey also noted that “more than 80 percent of the buses will end up in counties which already are at risk of violating federal air quality standards.” Some of those counties include Maricopa County, Pima County, and Pinal County.
The new school buses are expected to cost about $38 million. The remaining settlement money will be spent on replacing larger diesel vehicles with new ones and purchasing “other heavy equipment, including snow plows, highway sweepers, and paint-stripper trucks.”