Flathead Beacon: EPA Grants Bigfork School District $395,000 for Zero-Emission School Bus

by Denali Sagner

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week announced the recipients of the 2022 Clean School Bus Program grants, including Bigfork Elementary School, which will receive $395,000 to purchase one zero-emission electric school bus. Bigfork Elementary School was one of 389 schools selected by the EPA to receive a grant, which awarded a total of $913 million to support the purchase of 2,463 clean energy buses throughout the United States.

The EPA program seeks to transition districts to electric and low-emission school buses, an effort which EPA Mountains and Plains Regional Administrator KC Becker said will create “cleaner air and healthier environments for school children in communities across the Mountains and Plains region.” Becker in a press release emphasized the EPA’s efforts to reduce children’s exposure to “harmful pollutants such as soot, fine particulates, and nitrogen oxides” through the introduction of clean energy buses.

EPA representatives and Sen. Jon Tester, the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that included the Clean School Bus Program, emphasized the importance of clean energy and transportation investments in rural areas.

“Students and families in smaller communities like the one I call home need access to reliable transportation options,” Tester said in a press release. “I am proud to have worked with Republicans and Democrats to invest in Montana’s public education infrastructure. This will benefit working Montana families while also strengthening our American manufacturing sector.”

Of the grants awarded in the bus rebate program, 99% went to school districts that serve low-income, rural and tribal student bodies. Bigfork Elementary School is designated as both a rural school and a Title I school, given the large proportion of low-income students it serves.

Bigfork School District Transportation Director Danny Walker told the Beacon that the new electric bus will cover a 26 mile-per-day route, saving the district $13 per day in fuel costs. Currently, Walker is in the process of collecting quotes from bus manufacturers, which he will present to the school board before a vehicle is officially purchased using the federal grant.

Clinton Elementary School in Missoula County and Fairfield Elementary School in Teton County also received Clean School Bus Program grants for two buses at $790,000 and seven buses at $2,765,000, respectively. A press release from the EPA incorrectly stated that Bigfork Elementary School, rather than Fairfield Elementary School, would receive a $2,765,000 award for seven new buses, leading to some local confusion and incorrect reporting.

Though specifics about the district’s new bus have yet to be ironed out, Walker expressed optimism about the grant, highlighting successes that rural school districts in Alaska and North Dakota have had with electric bus programs.

The EPA is currently in the process of introducing the next round of clean school bus funding and plans to make available another $1 billion for zero-emission buses in FY 2023. The EPA encourages school districts that were not selected for funding, or that did not apply for Clean School Bus grants, to apply for awards in the program’s next round.