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Volkswagen settlement to buy buses for schools, public transit

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The state of South Carolina will use its first round of funding from the state’s share of the Volkswagen Settlement Fund to buy 78 new school buses and three public transit buses.

Gov. Henry McMaster announced the recipients of the settlement funding at a news conference Tuesday. In a 2015 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen agreed to establish an Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund of $2.93 billion. Volkswagen officials admitted the company installed “defeat devices” on its manufactured vehicles intended to cheat diesel fuel emissions tests in which nitrogen oxide levels exceeded federal standards.

The fund is to be distributed among all 50 states, with South Carolina’s share about $34 million.

The 78 new, propane-powered school buses will replace older buses owned by the S.C. Department of Education, which has struggled to find funding to buy new buses to replace its aging fleet. The state will pay $7.8 million for the new buses, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Also getting new energy-efficient buses are the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and the city of Anderson. Two Proterra electric transit buses and charging stations worth $1.7 million will be purchased for the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, with some of the funding coming from the Charleston County sales tax. Anderson was awarded $490,457 to buy an Axess compressed natural gas transit bus from ElDorado National. The city will supplement this money with a federal grant worth $417,000.

Money made from scrapping current buses will go back to fund all three recipients. 

In 2017, McMaster designated the S.C. Department of Insurance as the lead agency in determining how the state’s share of the Volkswagen Settlement Fund would be distributed. The department had to develop a written beneficiary mitigation plan to outline how the money would be used to reduce motor vehicle emissions. After a public comment period, the department determined three of eight applications would be funded.

“While these initial funds are a great step, our work on the project is only beginning,” Insurance Department director Ray Farmer said.

Molly Spearman, S.C. superintendent of education, attended the announcement Tuesday. The Education Department has been asking for years for money to replace its aging fleet of buses.

“I’m so thankful that the Department of Insurance has seen the need and supported us in this effort,” Spearman said.

McMaster singled out Farmer and Spearman in his remarks.

“I want to thank Superintendent Spearman for submitting this proposal and making sure this money goes toward getting the new buses that our students need,” McMaster said. “I also want to thank Director Farmer and his team for doing the work necessary to determine that this is the best use of these funds for our students and the people of South Carolina.”

Reach Renée Sexton at 803-726-7546.

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