Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians receives North Carolina’s first electric school bus

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are leading the way into a cleaner transportation future to spare our school kids from unhealthy diesel exhaust.

Stan Cross | March 16, 2022 | Clean Transportation, North Carolina

I’ve been to many electric vehicles (EV)-related ribbon cuttings over the last 13-years. This one in the mountains of North Carolina was awesome. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed hosted the event with remarks from Governor Roy Cooper and EPA Secretary Michael Regan. Though the governor and secretary spoke eloquently about the economic, environmental, and public health importance of transitioning to clean electric transportation, it wasn’t the presence of dignitaries that made the event feel so good.

Left to Right: EPA Secretary Michael Regan, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Eastern Band Councilwoman, Miss Cherokee, Teen Miss Cherokee, and Little Miss Cherokee. Source: SACE Staff

The giant yellow bus in the room, driven into the Cherokee Convention Center without the stench of diesel or the rumble of an engine, is what really made the event stand out. It rolled in and out, quiet and clean. And it did so, carrying children giddy with excitement, representing the immediate beneficiaries of the investment: their lungs (and the lungs of the bus drivers) will be spared unhealthy diesel exhaust riding to and from school.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed and EPA Secretary Michael Regan pose with school children. Source: SACE Staff

It is never easy to be the first to accomplish something. Representatives from all the parties that collaborated to build, fund, and deliver the bus were present, including:

  • Members of the Eastern Band and Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition, who worked together to research and write the grant;
  • North Carolina Division of Air Quality through the state’s Volkswagon Settlement and Duke Energy, who partnered to fund the project; and
  • Thomas Built Buses, who built the bus at its Greensboro, North Carolina plant.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed receives a plaque that will go in the bus commemorating it as the first electric bus in the state. The school will soon receive four more electric buses through funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Source: SACE Staff

The Eastern Band has been at the forefront of clean energy and transportation, so their leadership here should be no surprise. But a highlight of the event was the powerful symbolism of North Carolina’s original stewards leading the way forward. Humbleness, reverence, and determination resonated in words communicated by every tribal member who spoke. As a bonus, Secretary Regan announced that the EPA would deliver another four electric school buses to the tribe and that $5 billion in federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding will soon be available to electrify yellow buses across the country.

Electrifying transportation is critical given that the transportation sector is the largest source of carbon emissions nationally and in North Carolina, which is why the federal government is funding electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electric buses. Governor Cooper is digging in even further leading a state-wide equity-centered effort to decarbonize electricity generation and electrify transportation to fuel the clean energy economy. Last year saw unprecedented growth in electric car, truck, and bus manufacturing investment and jobs across the Southeast and in North Carolina, including at Thomas Built Buses’ manufacturing facility in Greensboro, North Carolina where the Eastern Band’s new electric school bus was built.

Source: SACE’s third annual “Tracking Decarbonization in the Southeast” report; April 2021, page 27

If there is one vehicle to electrify urgently, it’s the school bus. Over 20 million kids ride a school bus every day. The technology is ready to electrify every one of those buses today. Doing so will significantly reduce oil consumption, bolster America’s energy security, improve public health, and support federal and state-level decarbonization efforts. And here in North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are leading the way.

Electrify the South​ is a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy program that leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerate ​the ​equitable ​transition to ​electric transportation throughout the Southeast. Visit ElectrifytheSouth.org to learn more and connect with us.

Stan Cross
Stan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2019. Stan leads SACE’s electric transportation policy, utility reform, and program implementation across the Southeast. Previously, Stan led and co-founded Brightfield…
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