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Inside the GOP's bus brawl with EPA

Apr 11, 2024
Electric schoolbus at factory

A motor and batteries under an electric school bus at the Unique Electric Solutions facility in Holbrook, N.Y. Photo: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The GOP hunt for a new Solyndra is circling around an EPA program funding electric school buses.

Why it matters: EV school buses would cut carbon emissions. More importantly, climate advocates see them as a tool for winning the hearts of suburban America.

Driving the news: House E&C Republicans sent a letter to EPA last week requesting reams of fresh info about its Clean School Bus program, effectively widening an ongoing probe.

  • The letter cited criticism from the agency's inspector general late last year over burdens that EV buses may place on local utilities.
  • Republicans also stated that 46 school districts selected in the first round of funding under the program withdrew from getting money.
  • They cited a recent EPA report to Congress that said some districts pulled out because local officials opposed the purchases.

Zoom in: Buddy Carter, E&C Environment Subcommittee chair, told Axios that committee Republicans are surveying the private sector to find out if it has had issues with the program.

  • "We'll move on from there after we get input and do due diligence," he said.
  • Carter noted that his own state is home to Blue Bird, a leading manufacturer of school buses — some of which are now electric.

Friction point: In a statement to Axios, Blue Bird said it told Carter's office it's "experienced very few, minor issues" with the EPA that are "not uncommon for an unprecedented program of this scale."

  • "Blue Bird shared with Rep. Carter's office that we consider the EPA Clean School Bus Program to be a major milestone in the shift to zero-emission student transportation and healthier communities in the U.S."

Catch up quick: The Clean School Bus program was funded under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

  • As Republicans love to note, the law provides for the EPA to fund both "zero-emission" buses and "clean" buses (which can include propane).

What they're saying: Axios asked EPA to make someone available to speak about the program. Instead, it sent a statement that it's "reviewing the report and continues to implement the program in a way that follows the law."

  • "EPA will cooperate with the OIG on improving the program but has no additional information to share at this time."
  • E&C ranking Democrat Frank Pallone said last September that "Republicans are deliberately misleading the public about this program in order to prop up their friends in the fossil fuel industry."
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