RALEIGH -- North Carolina has received a national clean air award for an innovative program aimed at improving air quality at the state’s public schools during the past 18 years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has presented one of its Clean Air Excellence Awards for the Clean School Bus NC program, a joint effort between the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Air Quality, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, or DPI, and local school systems across the state.
According to a press release, The program has used a combination of policy, technology, outreach and transportation efforts to reduce students’ exposure to harmful air pollution from cars and school buses since the mid-1990s.
“Clean School Bus NC is a great example of state and local agencies working together to achieve a common goal,” said Sheila Holman, director of the state Division of Air Quality, or DAQ. “Due to these efforts, students across the state are breathing cleaner air.”
A key goal of the program was to reduce air emissions from older school buses, which often are powered by diesel engines that can produce harmful emissions. Nearly 800,000 students travel on buses in 115 school systems across the state. State and local agencies have used nearly $3.6 million in grants to install pollution controls on older buses or replace them with new, cleaner models.
DAQ, DPI and local systems used grants to help retrofit 1,854 buses with exhaust controls for removing harmful emissions at school systems across the state. The grants also helped replace or repower an additional 37 buses with cleaner-burning alternatives, such as hybrid gas-electric buses. DAQ estimates that these technological improvements have reduced annual bus emissions by 3.4 tons for nitrogen oxides and 9.1 tons for particle pollution.
DPI required school systems to adopt a reduced idling policy to be eligible for additional state transportation funds needed due to increasing fuel prices. DAQ and DPI also collaborated on outreach efforts to educate bus drivers and parents about the benefits of reduced idling. DAQ’s “Turn Off You Engine” campaign included a brochure and website with educational information about idling as well as hands-on events at schools. The division has distributed more than 3,000 “Turn Off Your Engine: Kids Breathe Here” signs that have been installed at more than 1,000 schools in 30 counties across the state.
State efforts to reduce unnecessary idling help to conserve fuel in addition to reducing air pollution. New and retrofitted buses often achieve better gas mileage in addition to cleaner emissions. DPI estimates that new school buses average about10 percent better fuel economy based on a comparison of 1,024 school buses meeting 2010 emissions standards compared with 1,756 similar buses/engines meeting 2007 emissions standards.