Bethel School district will be receiving nine propane-fueled school buses in the spring of this year.

The district cited increased sustainability and emissions reduction as a primary interest in purchasing the buses, after Superintendent of Bethel School District Tom Siegel encouraged the idea of a more environmentally friendly fleet approximately five years prior.

While the school district purchases new buses every year, they received additional funds from a grant through Washington State.

The State acquired funds for the grant via a settlement from Volkswagen, after it violated Washington’s Clean Air act by cheating emissions tests on its diesel vehicles.

“Our mission is to turn around and use those funds to reduce emissions.” Andy Wineke, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Ecology, said.

The settlement was for $28.7 million, all of which has been devoted to decreasing emissions statewide and supporting local communities. Twelve million dollars in grants have been used to purchase 330 school buses for 72 districts around the state. The other $16.7 million has been devoted to cleaner public transit, adding electric vehicles to the state fleet and helping the ports of Seattle and Tacoma purchase cleaner trucks.

Manufactured by Blue Bird in partnership with ROUSH CleanTech, the buses will have the lowest nitrogen oxide emissions in the country, far lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emissions guidelines.

Carbon emissions will also be reduced. Propane releases 139 pounds of carbon per British Thermal Units (BTU) versus 161.3 pounds of carbon from diesel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Diesel exhaust is a key contributor to nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere as well as being responsible for a large portion of particulate pollution. Nitrogen oxides pose an environmental risk by interacting with water and the atmosphere to produce acid rain, generate haze and cause coastal nutrient pollution. The EPA has also listed diesel exhaust has a potential human carcinogen and can contain heavy metals from additives such as zinc and arsenic.

The district said it was aware of the hazards associated with diesel exhaust, and that was a large contributing factor to move the fleet away from the older, inefficient diesel engines.

“We look at the new emissions that are out for both propane and diesel for school buses and take advantage of that, and try to help keep our fleet up-to-date with those changes.” Joel Stutheit, Assistant Transportation Director for the Bethel School District, said.

The district also mentioned having no safety concerns about the propane tanks, though said some of the drivers were initially leery.

“We had drivers that thought they were going to blow up if they drove a bus,” Stutheit said. “So, we had to do a lot of talking with some of those drivers and actually put them in a bus and take a look at the interior of the bus to show them how safe it really is for them to drive.”

“I don’t think we will ever get away from the diesel side, but we are reducing our carbon footprint [by going] from diesel to propane,” he added.

It looks unlikely that the district will go carbon neutral with their school bus fleet, but it is taking steps to reduce emissions by increasing the number of propane buses. This makes a safer environment for students by reducing their exposure to diesel exhaust.