Baton Rouge, other school districts to receive money for cleaner school buses through Volkswagen settlement


Public school districts in East Baton Rouge and Lafayette parishes are among those qualifying for discounts on 142 cleaner-burning buses as part of a court settlement, state officials said Monday.

Auto manufacturer Volkswagen pleaded guilty last year to cheating on emissions standards tests and agreed to pay $2.9 billion in damages. As part of the settlement, states received money to promote clean air. Louisiana has decided to spend much of its $18 million in settlement money to replace some diesel-powered school buses.

Seven school districts applied for new buses to be powered either by propane or cleaner-burning diesel engines. Rapides Parish has qualified for the most new units — 60 new cleaner diesel-fueled buses to be delivered over the next three years. East Baton Rouge plans to receive 50 propane-powered buses through 2020, while Lafayette has requested help buying 13 buses fueled by propane.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing the program. Authorities said a new diesel bus costs about $90,000 to $100,000, and propane buses typically run $100,000 to $110,000. Settlement money will pay half the cost of a propane bus and a quarter the cost of a cleaner-diesel bus, because in terms of air quality, propane offers "more bang for the buck," said DEQ Deputy Secretary Denise Bennett.

"I'll take 50 percent on a bus any day," said Gary Reese, chief of student support services for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District.

The district already has 20 propane buses in its 535-bus fleet, Reese said. Depending on funding, East Baton Rouge buys between five and 50 new units each year. Officials are working to transition to an all-propane fleet, though they had to buy older diesel-fueled models in the scramble to replace units after the 2016 flood.

To qualify for the current program, districts have to scrap an in-service, pre-2009 diesel bus so it is no longer in service, DEQ attorney Amber Gremillion Litchfield said. Continue reading...