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Electric school buses at more than twice the cost? Maine lawmakers to consider, starting today

Left: Assistant Senate Majority Leader Sen. Eloise Vitelli, sponsor of LD 1894. Right: Speaker Sara Gideon, who voted with Sen. Vitelli to declare the bill an emergency in Maine’s Legislative Council.

AUGUSTA – Is Maine facing an emergency requiring public school districts to purchase electric school buses at more than twice the cost in order to mitigate climate change? Senator Eloise Vitelli thinks so, and she wants to pass a law to have Maine’s public school districts transition over to 100% electric school buses over the next two decades, beginning immediately.

Senator Vitelli’s bill would begin to set aside money in the current budget to purchase replacement buses or in addition to buses already in school bus fleets and establish a training program for school bus mechanics. It also requires the Maine Department of Education to do an assessment of adding new school bus administrators to manage the new electric bus fleet.

According to Adam Crepeau, a policy analyst at Maine Heritage Policy Center says electric buses have a fraction of the driving range that current buses have, which will severely impact schools ability to use them for longer trips for sporting events, field trips and other experiences for students. Electric school buses have a range of only 100-135 miles, compared to the 400-mile range of most buses currently in use.

Cost to taxpayers is also a big issue according to Crepeau. Electric school buses cost about $230,000 each. That’s more than twice what a school bus costs now. Crepeau also says an optimistic assessment of the savings a school might realize from purchase of an electric school bus after more than a decade is about $20,000, although those savings may not always be realized because of maintenance costs and other expenses. Some buses, Crepeau says, may be retired for mileage at the 10-year mark before the school district breaks even.

Maine schools already spend $753.93 per student on transportation, according to data from the Maine Department of Education from 2017-18.

Still, the six Democrat members of the Maine Legislature’s Legislative Council deemed Vitelli’s proposal an “emergency” and voted 6-4 in favor of deeming Vitelli’s bill an “emergency” to allow it into the second session of the legislature.

Along with Vitelli, Speaker Sara Gideon, Senate President Troy Jackson, Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, and Speaker Gideon’s two lieutenants, Reps. Matt Moonen and Ryan Fecteau voted to move Vitelli’s bill forward as an emergency.

The emergency preamble of the bill, shown below, would mean the bill goes into effect immediately upon passage, bypassing the 90-day enactment period of regular legislation:

Emergency preamble. Whereas, acts and resolves of the Legislature do not become effective until 90 days after adjournment unless enacted as emergencies; and

Whereas, to mitigate the effects of climate change, this Act requires the Department of Education to take certain actions related to the transition of the fleet of public school buses to electric school buses; and

Whereas, climate change poses a substantial and immediate threat to the economy, natural resources and public health of the State; and

Whereas, in the judgment of the Legislature, these facts create an emergency within the meaning of the Constitution of Maine and require the following legislation as immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety; now, therefore,”

A public hearing on Senator Vitelli’s bill will be held today, Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 by the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee at 1pm. The hearing will be held in Room 208 of the Cross Building, adjacent to the Maine State House.

Senator Vitelli’s proposal dovetails with Governor Janet Mills’ decision last year to create a $5 million grant program to provide rebates for Maine people and government entities to purchase electric vehicles and build charging stations in some parts of Maine. Other proposals have also come forward in the Maine Legislature, including proposals to raise taxes on heating oil and multiple proposals to raise the gas tax on Maine drivers.

You can read the full text of the bill, L.D. 1894 “An Act To Incentivize the Purchase of Electric Public School Buses” here:

http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=SP0646&item=1&snum=129

Read Public Testimony from Adam Crepeau, policy analyst at Maine Heritage Policy Center:

http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getTestimonyDoc.asp?id=135718

Read the roll call vote of the Legislative Council deeming LD 1894 an emergency (page 70):

http://legislature.maine.gov/doc/3421

Link to Education and Cultural Affairs Committee page:

http://legislature.maine.gov/committee/#Committees/EDU

Read Adam Crepeau’s analysis at The Maine Wire:

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