SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of Utah’s public school buses could be contributing to the state’s already polluted air.
Of the 2,821 school buses owned by the state of Utah, 1,000 have been retrofitted for cleaner emissions thanks to grants from the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the Utah Office of Education reports that 739 buses built before 2001 don’t qualify for upgrades, which means they don’t meet standards set by the EPA.
“The challenge is the funding that we’ve had the last four or five years has not allowed us to buy the purchases that we need (in order) to get some of these (buses) off the road,” said Brian Larsen, director of transportation for the Davis County School District.
Now education officials hope new legislation can help them out. HB41 would give schools $20 million to Utah public schools to buy cleaner fuel emitting buses.
On Monday, Larsen showed KSL bus No. 353: a flat-face, yellow school bus that was built in 1991. It’s a perfect example of one of Utah’s older buses that do not qualify for environmental upgrades.
State education officials say the oldest buses are in the Alpine, Davis and Weber school districts.
“School districts use the oldest buses as spare buses, so they try to use those as little as possible,” said Murrell Martin, pupil transportation specialist with the Utah Office of Education.
The already-retrofitted buses received catalytic mufflers and closed crank filtration systems, Martin said. For those that don’t qualify for the upgrades, the idea of replacing them is a bit too costly.
“We have a higher percentage of students to educate than in other states, and so funding is always tight,” Martin said. “Combine that with the recent recession, and it has made it very difficult for school districts to replace buses.”
We have a higher percentage of students to educate than in other states, and so funding is always tight,” Martin said. “Combine that with the recent recession, and it has made it very difficult for school districts to replace buses.
That’s why state education officials hope HB41 passes. The bill has moved quickly through the Utah Senate, but it’s not a done deal yet.
“The issue is finding the funding for the bill,” Martin said.
With only a few days left in the 2014 Legislature, he and other education officials hope that money can be found soon.