October 31, 2022

Indiana school districts get $5 million for clean buses, but more polluted areas largely left out

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An electric school bus made by Blue Bird Corporation. The more than $5 million in federal funding will go towards 13 electric buses and six propane buses for six Indiana school districts.  - UniversityRailroad/Wikimedia Commons

An electric school bus made by Blue Bird Corporation. The more than $5 million in federal funding will go towards 13 electric buses and six propane buses for six Indiana school districts.

UniversityRailroad/Wikimedia Commons

Six school districts in Indiana will get money from the federal government to buy cleaner school buses. The more than $5 million in funding from the infrastructure law will go towards 13 electric buses and six propane buses.

With the exception of Michigan City Area Schools, the awards went to districts in rural areas — including Northeastern Wayne School Corporation, Western Boone County Community School Corporation, North Central Parke Community School Corporation, Caston School Corporation and East Washington School Corporation.

Susan Mudd is a senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. She said the Environmental Protection Agency gave priority to rural, lower-income, and tribal school districts — but it didn’t prioritize places that have more air pollution or higher rates of childhood asthma.

Mudd said many districts in larger cities like Indianapolis — that have a mix of lower and higher income areas — also didn’t make the cut.

“So when you have a lottery and you have so many priority districts applying and most of the list is rural — it just makes sense, in a lottery, that many of the names pulled from the hat so to speak will be rural," she said.


 

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Despite President Joe Biden’s commitments to environmental justice, there’s no indication that school districts in Black, Indigenous and other communities of color were given priority either. It’s a trend that has also played out in how Indiana hopes to use federal infrastructure law funding in two other programs for electric vehicle chargers and water infrastructure.

Denise Abdul-Rahman is the environmental and climate justice chair for the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP. In an email statement, she said the NAACP was excited for all the awardees — especially in Michigan City where residents live near the NIPSCO coal plant. According to the EPA’s tool EJ Screen, Michigan City and some other cities in northwest Indiana face higher rates of asthma than many other parts of the state.

“Electric school buses are an important aspect of our Just Transition framework and is beneficial for our young scholars from East Chicago, Michigan City, Gary to Indianapolis – who all deserve to breathe freely while living and learning," Abdul-Rahman said in a statement. "After all, our children are on the frontlines living near highway pollution, and fossil fuel power plants and a Black child is three to four times more likely to have an asthma attack than a White child. We want more investment in electric school buses.”

Due to the overwhelming number of applications, the EPA will make another $1 billion available to school districts around the country for fiscal year 2023. The agency encourages districts to apply.

In Indiana, 37 school districts applied for funding but didn't receive it this round. Mudd said the ELPC hopes it will convince the agency to give more polluted areas priority.

“And also to encourage, frankly, even additional funding for this program because of the very high interest," she said.

EPA Region 5 — which includes Indiana and other Great Lakes states in the Midwest — sent in more applications for electric school buses than any other region.

Contact reporter Rebecca Thiele at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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