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Wed, Oct. 16

Hundreds of aging school buses to be replaced in Arizona

Hundreds of school buses to be replaced in Arizona. (Daily Miner file photo)

Hundreds of school buses to be replaced in Arizona. (Daily Miner file photo)

PHOENIX – More than 280 aging – and presumably high-polluting – school buses are going to be replaced, at no cost to Arizona taxpayers.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Friday what he intends to use more than half of the $59 million the state is getting as its share of a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen to replace buses that are at least 15 years old and have more than 100,000 miles on them.

The available dollars for the buses are going largely to school districts where at least 60 percent of students come from families whose income qualifies them for free or reduced price lunches. The Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind also will get some new buses.

But Ducey said this allocation formula effectively takes into account more than poverty. He said more than 80 percent of the buses will end up in counties which already are at risk of violating federal air quality standards.

That’s why school districts in Maricopa County will end up with 85 of the buses, with 60 for Pima County districts and 30 for Pinal.

The price tag for the buses is an estimated $38 million.

Ducey plans to use the balance of the funds for new large diesel vehicles.

One will be a crew carrier for a newly created Post-Release Fire Crew, made up of mostly of people released from prison who either spent some time on prisoner fire crews while incarcerated or had previous firefighting experience.

And the state will be buying some other heavy equipment, including snow plows, highway sweepers and paint-striper trucks.

What’s getting the state all this cash is a decision by Volkswagen in 2016 to settle a nationwide lawsuit over the sale of so-called “clean diesel’’ vehicles being marketed under the VW, Audi and Porsche labels that were anything but. It turns out they had a “defeat device,’’ programmed to go into a low-emission mode during testing but then spew out pollutants at much higher – and illegal – levels when actually on the road.

VW eventually pleaded guilty to three felonies, including defrauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and agreed to $4.3 billion in penalties and another $4.9 billion to address pollution from the supposedly low-emission diesel vehicles.

Arizona’s share of that is $59 million.

But this isn’t unrestricted cash. It had to be spent on project to reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen, the very pollutants that the VW vehicles were spitting out above permissible levels.

The plan being announced today still must be approved by the trustee set up by the federal court. That’s because the terms of the nationwide settlement with the EPA specifically require that the dollars go toward projects designed to reduce air pollution.

Filings by the state are designed to show that Ducey’s plan meets that mandate.

For example, it says that for each school bus replaced, emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by nearly 1.4 tons over that vehicle’s anticipated 12-year life.

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