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EPA awards Allegheny County $10 million to purchase zero-emission buses for Mon Valley riders

An electric Pittsburgh Regional Transit bus drives down Fifth Avenue in Oakland.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
County officials say the federal grant will fund four new zero-emission buses, which are slated to replace high-emitting diesel ones and serve Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) routes in the Mon Valley.

Allegheny County will receive $10 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to purchase four new electric buses as part of an effort to improve the region’s air quality.

County officials announced Monday that the four new buses will replace high-emitting diesel ones and serve Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) routes in the Mon Valley.

Vehicle emissions of PM 2.5 — a form of fine particulate matter that can penetrate deep into the lungs — contribute roughly 25% of all air pollution in the county, according to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD).

While air quality measurements for the region reported to the EPA over the last several years meet the federal threshold of 12 micrograms per cubic meter, they don’t dip far below it.

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ACHD’s air quality monitor in Liberty, for one, saw an average of 11.2 micrograms per cubic meter from 2019 to 2021. That would sit above the new EPA standards proposed earlier this year.

"Zero-emission buses reduce fine particulate pollution, or PM2.5 greenhouse gas emission, which improves public health and also provides a way for transit authorities to maintain and expand their transit systems in a reliable, cost-effective way," ACHD acting director Patrick Dowd said in a statement.

ACHD applied for the EPA’s Targeted Airshed Grant program in partnership which PRT, which will utilize the funding to advance its goal of eliminating all tailpipe emissions from its buses by 2045.

The agency pledged to do so last year, estimating the program will cost $1 billion over the next two decades. Each 40-foot electric bus is priced at approximately $950,000 — about 60% more expensive than their diesel counterparts.

PRT CEO Katharine Kelleman told WESA her agency planned to replace its existing fleet as each bus reaches the end of its 12-year lifespan. In September 2022, six of PRT’s 730 buses ran on electricity.

Officials expect the buses to be purchased and put into service in 2026.

The EPA awarded ACHD $5.7 million to replace public-transit buses with zero-emission alternatives back in 2020. The county received an additional $3.8 million in Targeted Airshed Grant funding the following year to do the same with recycling trucks and school buses.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.