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

BY STEVE HARDY | SHARDY@THEADVOCATE.COM

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...