GOP lawmakers fear reliance on China in shift toward electric school buses 

The Biden administration’s attempt to shift to electric school buses runs the risk of making the U.S. more reliant on China, according to what some GOP lawmakers said during a hearing Wednesday.  

“The administration’s forced electric transition will also make us more reliant on China, which dominates the EV [electric vehicle] battery market and the supply chains for critical materials necessary to build electric vehicles,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said. 

Democrats on the oversight and investigations subcommittee thought the argument from some of their GOP colleagues was weak and proved the members’ unwillingness to transition to cleaner energy alternatives. 

“I don’t understand the Republican mantra that there aren’t enough buses, there aren’t enough charging systems,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said. “Well, let’s change it.” 

The Wednesday hearing, meant to address oversight challenges to the Clean School Bus Program, which was established in November 2021 through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

The law authorizes $1 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for this program for each fiscal year from 2022 through 2026. According to the EPA, the law allows “awards for the cost of replacing existing school buses with clean school buses or zero-emission buses and charging or fueling infrastructure.” 

The program aims to provide school districts with clean or zero-emission school buses to lessen the risks of cancer and asthma in young children as well as the effects of climate change. 

The hearing, titled “Making the Grade?: Audit of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program,” was meant to determine the effectiveness of the program thus far, as well as identify any potential for fraud. However, witness Sean O’Donnell, inspector general at the EPA, admitted he did not have a clear answer for subcommittee members. 

“In closing, the title of today’s hearing poses the question as to whether the EPA’s Clean School Bus program is ‘making the grade,’” O’Donnell said in his opening statement. “I believe that it is too early to tell. If I had to give a grade today, it would be an ‘incomplete.’” 

Members of the subcommittee felt it was too early for the hearing to have taken place, with Pallone saying, “It is clear that this hearing is premature since the audit is not completed.” 

While the audit is not yet complete, O’Donnell shared the status of the report and initial findings from the program’s first year. 

One notable finding had to do with supply chain issues and delayed distribution of chargers for the electric buses. 

“While the results are preliminary, one noteworthy finding affecting the EPA’s ability to disburse and manage IIJA funds is the potential delays related to the infrastructure needed to support the bus chargers, including the increased demand on utility companies responsible for constructing power lines and transformers needed to make electric buses fully operational,” O’Donnell told lawmakers. 

With the audit incomplete, members of the GOP remained skeptical about the effectiveness and the economic responsibility of the program. 

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm embarked on a four-day road trip this summer to promote the usage of electric cars as part of President Biden’s ambitious clean energy initiative. 

However, she ran into several issues, as there were limited car charging stations as she made her way through the rural South. At one charging station, a family even called the cops on her and her team for blocking the charging station with a nonelectric car to reserve the spot for the secretary. 

McMorris Rodgers said because of those issues during Granholm’s trip, she had doubts about getting children to school safely in electric vehicles. 

“If President Biden’s own Energy Secretary can’t travel smoothly in an EV, how can this administration promise to ensure millions of children are able to get around in EV school buses,” she asked. 

She also bashed the EPA for having a political agenda, saying a transition to clean energy will harm everyday Americans through extensive spending of taxpayer dollars. 

“I fear that it [EPA] has replaced its core mission of protecting human health and the environment with a harmful political agenda to force an energy transition onto American families and businesses who will suffer,” McMorris Rodgers said. 

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