Metro Atlanta school district receives millions in funding for cleaner buses

Daniel Blackman (center), Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the Southeast, poses with students and representatives of Michelle Obama Elementary School on May 17, 2023. (Marlon Hyde/WABE)

School buses in Metro Atlanta are getting cleaner with a new fleet of low-emissions buses on the way to several school districts in the area.

Clayton County will receive almost $10 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The money will go toward buying 25 electric school buses and 25 charging units.

It’s part of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, in which $5 billion will be distributed for school districts to buy low and zero-emission buses; the federal bipartisan infrastructure law will fund the money. In addition to Clayton, 14 other Georgia school districts will benefit from the program as well.

Daniel Blackman, EPA administrator for the southeast, says the cleaner buses will protect children’s health, especially in underserved communities — like those around Michelle Obama Elementary Academy, where he made the funding announcement. 

“We’re at a school where 98% of these kids at this school are living at or below the poverty line,” he said. “As much as we would like to do within our scope of work, it allows us to at least provide school buses that protect our most vulnerable communities.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, more than 12% of children in Georgia have suffered from asthma at some point in their lives.

Pediatrician Anne Mellinger-Birdsong says these buses can significantly lower the risk of asthma and lung damage among students.

“It would be so good for kids’ health if the whole 100% of the fleet was electric buses,” Birdsong said.

The buses help address climate change, too, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Anne Blair, director of policy with the Georgia-based Electrification Coalition, says that we must figure out the best way to support more electric vehicles.

“Building on our charging infrastructure is going to be a significant investment, particularly when you’re charging a large number of vehicles in a fleet … and so, there is a lot of utility planning that is necessary to do in combination with the vehicle deployment,” Blair said.

A major manufacturer of electric school buses is based in Macon — the Blue Bird Corporation. Last week, workers there voted to unionize