States looking to upgrade school buses with VW funds

CHICAGO — A multibillion-dollar settlement with car maker Volkswagen over an emissions scandal could mean dozens of new electric school buses in the Chicago area and around the Midwest.

Photo by Kyle Field

That same settlement also could mean new cleaner-burning engines for school buses in Louisiana.

The German automaker admitted in 2015 that it had installed software that allowed U.S. vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution. VW agreed to more than $15 billion in settlements, and some of that money is going to states for clean-air programs.

More than $105 million could be available for Illinois alone.

One possible use for the money is the purchase of electric school buses to replace diesel buses in Chicago Public Schools and other districts in Illinois. A regular school bus costs around $100,000, while an electric bus runs closer to $300,000, though maintenance and operating costs for electric buses are lower.

Other Midwestern states, including Michigan, are applying for funds under the settlement.

Meanwhile, schools buses in Louisiana will get their polluting diesel engines replaced with new motors that run on cleaner-burning alternative fuels as a result of the Volkswagen settlement.

Louisiana’s cut of the fines and penalties will amount to about $18 million. The amount is calculated by how many of the VW diesel vehicles were sold in a state.

How the money can be spent is limited and comes with a list of conditions. The key point is that the money must be used to lower nitrogen oxide emissions.

Before the money is available, a federal trustee must be chosen, and then the governor of each state must submit a pollution mitigation plan. The plan can include 10 allowable uses, including school buses. Once the trustee approves the plan, requests can be submitted.

The program is open both to public school districts that own their own buses and to those that contract the service out.

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