EPA visits Wabaunsee to promote infrastructure bill

EPA administrator visits USD 329 to highlight bus program

Heather Baker, AJ Grutsch | staff writer, editor in chief

USD 329 received national attention and a visit from a cabinet-level official last week.

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Michael Regan, visited Wabaunsee February 8. He came to speak to students, press, and the community about the new electric buses

USD 329 is the first district in Kansas to receive the electric buses, and the district received two of the 17 buses planned for Kansas schools out of 400 around the country. 

MHES secretary Cheryl Hurla and elementary student Brandt Hurla speak during a press conference outside of Alma Elementary with EPA administrator Michael Regan (middle). The event highlighted Wabaunsee as the first recipient of electric busses from a recently-passed infrastructure bill. Photo by AJ Grutsch.

According to the EPA, the visit was to celebrate the delivery of the state’s first all-electric school buses and mark the historic investment in America under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The event highlighted how initiatives like EPA’s Clean School Bus Program are delivering environmental and economic benefits for communities. During the visit, Regan also announced a new pledge from electric utility partners to support efforts to electrify the nation’s school bus fleet.

President Biden highlighted his administration’s push to build more electric charging stations in his state of the union address to congress the night before.

Regan took a short tour from Alma to McFarland on one of the buses with a few of his associates and the press, as well as Wabaunsee students and administrators. Regan answered questions from students and taught them why electric buses are important to reducing pollution and promoting good health.

Regan said the buses allow for students to get to and from school in a cleaner environment, and also allows the school to have nice new buses that will be cheaper maintenance-wise in the long run. 

After the ride, a round table discussion in the gym featured Regan and several business and government leaders, including representatives from Evergy, the mayor of Alma, and Lion Energy, which manufactures the electric busses.

USD 329 transportation director Clint Thompson discusses the process of applying for a grant during a round table in the WHS gym. Photo by Abby Wallin.

Meg McCollister, administrator for EPA region 7, said that about 25 million kids in the US use school buses every day, and that’s why they are vital to the community as a reliable form of transportation to reduce absenteeism of students.

 “School buses also reduce the amount of vehicles on the road,” McCollister said, “and they can help provide relief for busy families.” The goal of the EPA Clean School Bus Program is to reduce the carbon footprint of these vital vehicles.

The panel discussed how the bus program is implemented and how it benefits school districts. Topics included the local cooperation on installing charging stations, financial benefits of the bus grants for school districts, efficiency benefits for the electrical grid and infrastructure and the increased recycling value of electric busses over traditional diesel busses.

Superintendent Troy Pitsch was present on the board as well and discussed why Wabaunsee was a good and ready candidate to receive these buses. Other staff on the board include Steve Oliver, Robert Schawo, and Wabaunsee transportation director Clint Thomson. 

After the panel, a press conference outside of Alma Elementary gave participants another opportunity to share the benefits of the busses.

The two new busses have been part of USD 329’s fleet since the beginning of the semester.

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