The EPA considers diesel exhaust one of the highest-ranking air pollutants. It’s responsible for a number of health issues, and one of its biggest sources is buses — the same buses shuttling around our children from home to school and back again.
Diesel exhaust can cause or exacerbate certain conditions, such as lung damage, asthma, respiratory issues and allergies as well as increase the chance of developing lung cancer due to inhalation of fine particulate matter. This is especially true in young children whose lungs are not fully-developed.
President Obama reauthorized the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2010 (DERA) in 2011 that provides funding to replace older school buses emitting large amounts of diesel emissions in low-income and poverty-stricken areas. The program pays for retrofitting of diesel engines and educational programs to spread awareness.
The DERA Program
Not only does the DERA program provide grants, but the EPA offers rebates through the program. The DERA program was funded through the fiscal year 2016. DERA is so popular that applicants requested more than $44 million in assistance, although the DERA program budget is $7.7 million.
In 2015, the requested amount from over 530 bus fleets raised to more than $50 million proving the DERA rebate program goes a long way to attract environment and health-conscience organizations. Due to the limiting amount of funding, only 85 applicants were randomly chosen.
The rebate offered $25,000 to qualified applicants to help pay for a replacement school bus as a new school bus averages between $65,000 and $85,000.
The newer school buses come equipped to virtually eliminate the diesel emissions by up to 95 percent and as many as 73,000 school buses from 2008 through 2013 benefited from DERA support through either replacements or upgrades.
The DERA program has done more than just reduce emissions. It has added jobs to the economy, helped expand newer technologies and saved millions of gallons of fuel. The EPA cites that the lifetime reductions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide equal out to $12.6 billion in health savings.
Children not only benefit from clean air, but the DERA program provides educational books and videos, such as “The Magic School Bus Gets Cleaned Up,” a new story for the popular Magic School Bus series. The EPA and Scholastic Books worked together to create the new book to raise awareness about diesel emissions.
In the story, the children learn about diesel engines and ways to reduce air pollution from emissions. The story concludes with the Magic School Bus getting retrofitted. For hands-on learners, the EPA hosts a traveling laboratory resembling the retrofitted Magic School Bus that tours the country to teach children science lessons.
How to Reduce Diesel Exhaust
Limiting idling in older school buses can reduce some diesel emissions that are harmful to children. When a bus arrives at a school to drop off or pick up children, the driver should turn the bus off until it is ready to leave. Even buses that rely on the engine to operate flashing lights can reconfigure the controls to use the battery to operate the lights instead of idling.
Each school bus burns an average of one-half gallon of fuel for each hour of idling time. Not only is this unsafe for the bus driver and children, but it costs the school bus company money — especially consider the rising costs of fuel. The best way to reduce harmful emissions from diesel exhaust is to retrofit current school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts that reduce particulate emissions by 20 percent.
These filters, combined with technological advancements in emissions-control systems and efficient fuels, ensure school bus fleets stay EPA compliant while saving money and reducing air pollution.
The Future of the DERA Program
With the addition of Scott Pruitt, the new EPA Administrator, close to two dozen transportation companies and associations worry about the continued funding of the DERA program. These organizations, such as the American Trucking Association, Caterpillar, Inc., Cummins, Inc. and the National School Transportation Association, released a letter to Pruitt requesting support for the program.
The new EPA budget is set for release in April 2017 and includes program cuts of up to 25 percent, including the elimination of some programs. Since each state in the country receives support from this funding, many struggling areas will no longer be able to participate if the program ends due to budget cuts.