Government

Iowa will use $3 million from Volkswagen settlement to update local bus fleets

Agencies can apply for grants through Jan. 18

The highway 30 and Interstate 380 interchange is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The highway 30 and Interstate 380 interchange is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Transportation is allocating more than $3 million in federal settlement funds to help state schools and communities replace diesel vehicles with more environmentally friendly buses.

As part of a 2016 federal court settlement, in which Volkswagen officials admitted to programming diesel vehicles to cheat emissions standards, the automaker agreed to pay $2.8 billion to states to reduce diesel pollution.

For Iowa, that means $3.15 million in grant opportunities for eligible private organizations, public transit system operators, cities, counties and schools looking to update their diesel fleets and equipment.

“With this program our hope is to cut down the nitrogen oxides emitted through a diesel engine,” said Zac Bitting, grant manager with the Iowa DOT’s Clean Air Attainment Program.

Bitting said a public survey was conducted to determine the best use of settlement funds, and replacement of buses was one of the most popular results.

All told, Iowa is slated to receive about $21 million over a 10-year span to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions — the main byproduct of burning diesel fuel. In the first cycle of funding, the state has allocated $4.9 million to efforts including diesel buses, freight trucks and equipment.

Bitting said future funding cycles will put additional funds into those same areas and could promote zero-emissions vehicles or infrastructure.

The state will receive applications for grants through Jan. 18. Applicants can receive up to $25,000 or 25 percent of the cost of a new vehicle, whichever is less. Applicants can receive funds toward multiple vehicles and no entity will be awarded more than $500,000.

“One reason why we limited it to $500,000 was because we are trying to spread the wealth across the state,” Bitting said.

Multiple bus technologies are eligible for funding, including newer diesel, alternate-fueled or electric vehicles.

Officials with the Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law and Police Center in a Monday news release advocated for electric buses, arguing they provide the best savings for taxpayers and greatest reduction in emissions.

“Electric school buses make sense for our children’s health and our school districts’ budgets,” Steve Falck, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said in the release. “The Department of Transportation is making a smart move by helping put electric school buses on the road in Iowa.”

A shift to electric buses also provides a financial benefit, Kerri Johannsen, energy program director with the Iowa Environmental Council, said in the release.

“School districts want the savings and clean air benefits that electric school buses create,” she said. “This first round of funding will kick-start a new technology that creates long-term savings for Iowa communities.”

To learn more about the state grant opportunities, including eligibility, visit iowadot.gov/vwsettlement.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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