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Report: Ore. Plans "Electrifying" Replacement for Diesel Buses

A 2017 law requires Oregon to upgrade older, diesel-powered school buses by 2025. (tmeanes77/Twenty20)
A 2017 law requires Oregon to upgrade older, diesel-powered school buses by 2025. (tmeanes77/Twenty20)
May 16, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon has announced it will replace hundreds of old diesel-powered school buses, and a new report suggests that replacing them with electric buses is the best choice for children's health, the environment and the state's coffers.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has said it will use money from the $72 million Volkswagen emissions-cheating settlement to replace about 450 school buses. Both DEQ and the report from Environment Oregon note that diesel emissions are dangerous for kids.

Celeste Meiffren-Swango, director of Environment Oregon, said emissions can worsen respiratory diseases and conditions such as asthma, "and the negative effects are especially pronounced in children. It's internationally recognized as a cancer-causing agent and classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. EPA."

Meiffren-Swango said zero-emission electric buses are capable of replacing diesel buses now. DEQ has not announced how the new buses will be powered, but a 2017 law requires Oregon to upgrade older diesel school buses by 2025.

The report suggested that Oregon go further than school buses and replace transit vehicles with electric buses, too. The Chicago Transit Authority estimates it saves that system $80,000 per electric bus, per year.

The cost to build electric infrastructure could be a major roadblock at the outset, but Meiffren-Swango said even when that's factored in, electric still saves cities money over the lifetime of a bus. She added that the zero-emission fuel also saves on operating costs.

"The upfront costs of electric buses are more than a traditional diesel bus," she said, "but we know that they are actually more affordable in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don't require oil changes or fossil fuels."

She said Portland's TriMet transit system is the state's largest purchaser of diesel. Environment Oregon is calling on TriMet to stop buying diesel buses by 2020. Buses have a lifespan of about 16 years.

The electric-bus report is online at environmentoregoncenter.org, and the Oregon DEQ announcement is at oregon.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR