New Jersey will spend up to $45 million to give electric school buses a trial run in select school districts.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed legislation to create the Electric School Bus Program, which will run over three years.

“Some of the most important vehicles traversing our state’s roads and bridges are the buses connecting our children and families to our nation-leading public school system," Murphy said. "It is our responsibility as elected officials to ensure that those vehicles do not adversely affect the health outcomes of our students as they grow, learn, and prepare to lead New Jersey toward a more sustainable future themselves.”

Through the program, the Department of Environmental Protection will issue $15 million in grants in the first year, and up to $15 million in years two and three.

Grants will be awarded to at least six school districts or bus contractors annually. Each year, at least half of the funding will be allocated to low-income, urban, or environmental justice communities. For year one, the program's budget comes from the state's general fund.

"New Jersey's students are ready to move into the future on zero-emissions school buses," said Melissa Miles, executive director of New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. "It's especially critical that communities that bear the burden of the cumulative impacts of air pollution from heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses, along with the other environmental and climate risks, are the first to make this necessary transition away from diesel burning buses."

According to environmental advocates, about 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions could be prevented each year if the entire country's fleet of school buses were replaced with electric alternatives.

The legislation signed by Murphy was approved by the full Senate in June, by a 23-15 vote. It cleared the Assembly by a 47-31-1 vote on May 26.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill suggested that New Jersey could put the $45 million to better use. While advocates say electric school buses would save districts money over the long run, critics say $45 million is just a tiny fraction of the investment that would be needed to truly make the shift to an electric fleet.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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