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Photo: LP Gas Magazine

The Minnesota Propane Association wants the administration of Gov. Tim Walz to consider liquid propane as an economical alternative to spending $4.7 million on electric-powered school buses from $47 million Minnesota gets from the national Volkswagen pollution-cheating scandal settlement.

State officials have floated ways to use the funds in pursuit of a cleaner, greener transportation future.The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) plans to invest $23.5 million over the next four years under a draft plan.

About 65% of the funds wouldo help electrify Minnesota's transportation sector. About $7 million will be spent on electric heavy-duty vehicles, such as transit buses; $4.7 million on electric school buses; $3.5 million on cleaner heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks; $2.35 million on school bus replacement; and $2.35 million on cleaner, heavy-duty off-road equipment, such as locomotives, ferries and port equipment.

The MPCA also said it will spend 90% of the $3.52 million set aside for 43 electric vehicle charging stations in greater Minnesota, expanding the statewide charging network by more than 2,400 miles.

"In the Twin Cities, participants shared concerns about school buses, and the need to replace more of them with newer technology vehicles, especially electric buses," the MPCA report states. Others expressed interest in using electric vehicles and concern that "without charging opportunities across the state, they would not be able to travel outside of the metropolitan area."

Gregg Voss, a spokesman for the propane industry, which produces a fairly clean fuel from a natural gas-petroleum hybrid that also is used for cooking and heating, said 40 state school districts are reducing emissions and saving money with propane school buses, including Eastern Carver County, Mendota Heights ISD, Minneapolis Public Schools, Proctor Public Schools and the St. Francis district.

Voss cited a recent study by West Virginia University’sCenter for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, which uncovered the Volkswagen diesel-emission scandal. He said nitrogen oxide emissions are 17 to 34 times higher for stop-and-go routes common for a diesel bus than a propane bus. Nitrogen oxides, like nitrogen dioxide, aggravates asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory issues. And there is no “black soot” common to diesel-fueled buses from propane buses.

Moreover, Voss said propane-fuel buses cost up to four-time les than electric buses, with little engine maintenance because the fuel is so clean and propane stations cost less than electric stations. And the fuel is cheaper than diesel.

“The bottom line is this,” Voss said in an email statement: “People think about propane in terms of grilling or home heating or forklifts, but there are 18,000 propane buses in use across North America, transporting 1.1 million kids to school every day. Electric buses may be the future, but right now, if districts and bus contractors want a ‘plug-in solution’ to reducing both cost and emissions, then propane is the answer.

The MPCA is collecting public comments on the proposed use of the Volkswagen funds at: vwsettlement.pca@state.mn.us.

Generally, clean-energy advocates believe the best way to a less-carbon-polluting future is through electrification of the car-truck-bus fleet as nearly 30 percent of the state's power comes from renewable sources that emit less planet-warming emissions.