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Studies dating as far back as the 1970s show that humans value the status quo and see change as much more painful than potential gain. In North Carolina this preference for the status quo has played out in the state’s recent decisions regarding the use of Volkswagen settlement funds for the purchase of school buses.

After much debate, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) used more than half of the first part of its VW funds to buy what it has bought in the past –– diesel-powered school buses. One news outlet said the choice “reflected…the reluctance of many to try something new – even buses that simply burn a different fuel.”

Climate change activists are upset because their preference is tilted strongly in favor of electric buses in spite of well-documented operating problems, much higher costs and the inescapable fact that the electrons generated for the grid are primarily made by burning fossil fuels. In fact, more than 60% of the North Carolina electric grid is fired by coal and natural gas. Their allies –– electric companies –– are upset by DPI’s decisions because their motivation is to sell more electrons, which is why they offered massive incentives to try and sway the deliberations.

Big diesel, on the other hand, is celebrating the decision because it loves the status quo. To them, DPI’s decision must feel like a bullet dodged, especially because of diesel’s detrimental environmental profile and the fact that a reported 815 of the state’s diesel buses are causing substantial problems for school bus fleet managers.

The propane industry’s viewpoint on this matter isn’t perfectly impartial. It does, however, favor the taxpayers, fleet managers, parents, school children and bus drivers of the state. Here’s why we believe North Carolina can do better the next time it makes school bus purchases:

  • Lower Cost: Propane buses save school districts .37 cents per mile in operating and maintenance –– half the cost of diesel buses, and at $95,000 per bus, propane school buses are much less expensive to purchase than their $300,000 electric counterparts.
  • Lower Emissions: Propane school buses emit near-zero particulate matter, 80% less overall carbon and 96% less NOx. They also operate much more quietly than diesel models. University studies have concluded that these environmental benefits combine to actually improve student attentiveness and test scores.

Propane is designated as a clean fuel under the Clean Air Act, is more affordable than its counterpart fuels, made in the U.S., and is a major source of clean energy for residents in every county in North Carolina. Those facts should have us embracing a change that is ready today to benefit those who deserve it most –– the school children of North Carolina.

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About the Author

Tucker Perkins is the president and chief executive officer of the Propane Education & Research Council.