School buses clean up their act

Local agency receives $400K to retrofit buses with filters to lower emissions
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
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The familiar puff of black exhaust that follows school buses around town is about to disappear. The Mid Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency completed retrofitting 21 school buses, nearly its entire fleet, in April that placed diesel particulate filters in the exhaust to catch most of the carbon that made up the black smoke seen behind many school buses. The agency applied for a grant in 2008 before the legislature made the filters a requirement on all school buses and heavy trucks a year later. With the state mired in a budget deficit, Martin Ward, the chief executive officer at Mid Placer, thought the money would never come and the program might be completely abandoned. Instead, the agency received $398,127 from the state to retrofit the buses and the hardware to maintain them. ?I looked at it and said, ?It was a nice exercise but nothing is going to come out of that,? Ward said of the application process. ?Then surprise, surprise they actually got funded and that us let us move in the last year to get the 21 buses done.? All California school buses must have the diesel particulate filter by 2014 at a cost of almost $16,000 per bus. The filters are designed to trap at least 85 percent of the carbon that escapes from the exhaust. To clear the carbon out of the filter they are hooked up to a machine for a process called regeneration that heats up the filter to burn off the carbon. ?So far, we?re still learning. We don?t know how often we?re going to have to regenerate these things,? Ward said. ?Some are in here every other day.? Filters will have to be pulled once a year for newer buses and more frequently for older ones to be cleaned out and heated up in an oven to remove any remaining carbon. The regeneration process has increased the agency?s energy consumption by an estimated 2 to 3 percent and any changes in fuel mileage haven?t been determined yet. Mid Placer provides school transportation for the Colfax Elementary School District, Placer Union High School District and Loomis Union School District, among others. The Environmental Protection Agency started a nationwide initiative in 2004 called Clean School Bus USA that provides grants to complete the retrofitting of buses, especially those built prior to 2002. Mid Placer has two such buses, both from 1997, that were also retrofitted. ?That is a huge benefit to the children, especially if there?s a little bit of idling going on or if you?re in traffic and you?re stuck behind a school bus,? said Heather Kuklo, air quality specialist at Placer County Air Pollution Control District. ?It?s really going to reduce the diesel soot and other particles that are coming out of that exhaust. There?s a great benefit in protecting children?s health and improvements in the overall air quality.?