Our state has a unique opportunity to use the mistakes of the past to pave the way for a smarter future. The Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, in which VW sold hundreds of thousands of diesel cars in the U.S. that intentionally tricked emissions tests, resulted in a more than $15 billion settlement agreement that included nearly $3 billion between VW and 44 states toward an Environmental Mitigation Fund. Michigan’s share is approximately $65 million, and can be used to help both public and private fleet operators replace dirty diesel trucks and buses with cleaner alternatives. A small portion of about $9 million can be used to help build electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state.
Pediatric physician (and UM professor) Toby C. Lewis and former EPA assistant administrator Janet McCabe argued in the Detroit Free Press recently that Michigan should prioritize using its $65 million share to upgrade the state’s older fleet of dirty diesel school buses to clean, electric models. We couldn’t agree more.
Lewis and McCabe report that 660,000 children across Michigan are riding to school in 17,000 diesel school buses every school day. The fumes from the exhaust seep into the cabin and into children’s lungs as the buses chug around our communities, stopping and idling in front of homes, parks, hospitals, schools and more. These outdated and stinky buses not only poison our children, but our communities as well.
The VW emissions scandal was a tragedy that polluted our environment and economy while deceiving consumers. However, we still have a chance to make good out of it. Michigan’s portion of the settlement could be used to begin the process of converting an estimated 17,000 diesel school buses in our communities with clean, electric models that would help protect our children from the ill effects of Michigan’s asthma problem, improve air quality overall, and help stabilize the electric grid while buses charge during low-demand hours.
As Lewis and McCabe argue, there is a precedent for this plan. There are already over 100 electric school buses operating in North America, and major manufacturers are investing in the technology. This presents Michigan with a unique opportunity, as with other electrification initiatives, to become an innovator and market leader by driving demand and production of a new segment of electric vehicles. It is also the perfect time to invest in our children’s health and safety.