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Governor Cooper visits Cherokee Reservation to dedicate state’s first electric school bus 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper joined Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to unveil the first electric school bus in North Carolina and highlight the state’s transition to a clean energy economy. 

EBCI Chief Richard Sneed spoke on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as well as deliver remarks from Secretary of Agriculture, Joseph Owle, who was unable to attend due to an unfortunate and untimely passing of a beloved family member. 

“The Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a strategic purpose of instilling the next generation of natural resource stewards and working to fulfill a 100-year vision for the Tribe,” Chief Sneed said on Tuesday. “Today’s event celebrating the reception of North Carolina’s first electric school bus is a testament to the tribe’s commitment in reaching that potential.  We are proud of the diligent effort put forth by our team in working together to make today a reality.  I especially want to recognize Mrs. Katie Tiger for leading this project, as we would not be here today if not for her rambunctious optimism and professional drive.”

The Tribe’s electric school bus was made possible through a partnership with the state, specifically DEQ and Duke Energy. The purchase of this bus was made possible in part by an award from the NC Department of Environmental Quality using funds from the Volkswagen Emissions Settlement.

“This electric school bus is better for the environment and our children’s health, and it was made right here in North Carolina. That’s a win-win-win for our state,” Governor Cooper said. “The transition to clean transportation is critical in our fight against climate change and this new emission-free bus shows just how many opportunities for clean energy transitions there are in our everyday life.”

This electric bus is part of a larger goal of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to buy at least 50% electric or hybrid vehicles when making new fleet purchases and install 20 electric vehicle charging stations on the Qualla Boundary and at tribal buildings by 2024. The tribe is also working to install electric vehicle chargers and install solar panels on residential homes.

In addition to the dedication of the inaugural electric bus, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that the tribe has been awarded an EPA Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant to buy four all-electric school buses.

“We are grateful and excited for cooperation we have received from Governor Cooper and the Environmental Protection Agency in the effort to provide better and safer transportation for our school children,” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed said. “We are confident that the new electric school busses will be an asset for the community for years to come.”

Chief Sneed said this was just the beginning for the Tribe’s environmental future. 

“The next podium in our quest to increase our fleet’s electric vehicle capacity is just upon the horizon,” said Chief Sneed. “We also gather to celebrate our partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency for making the next round of electric school buses possible through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funding. The EPA has been an outstanding partner to the Tribe and our Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  We have received funding and professional guidance for a variety of regulatory and monitoring functions for decades from the EPA.  Our valued partnership with the EPA supports and enhances our own sovereignty and ability to administer programs from within the Tribe.”

Duke Energy’s partnership through the process that spans the last year included providing technical expertise and funding to install the infrastructure that will power the next generation of school buses. Additionally, Duke is also contributing funding to the acquisition of the next set of electric buses that will be received in the coming year for the EBCI. 

“Meaningful partnerships across the spectrum are part of the historical foundation for our Tribe,” said Chief Sneed. “When the folks within our organizations are able to reach out to reach and commit to helping one another, achievements like today are the result of working together for a common purpose.  And that purpose is to ensure that the future generations are able to enjoy the freedom and prosperity we celebrate today.”

The electric school bus was built by Thomas Built Buses, a bus company established in High Point. The purchase of this school bus was made possible through a VW grant administered by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality as part of the Volkswagen Settlement Phase 1 Mitigation Plan. The bus is the first of six electric school buses awarded in Phase 1 of the Volkswagen program. The application period for Volkswagen Phase 2 school bus replacement grants is open now through June 6, 2022 and includes $27 million available to replace diesel school buses with a goal of directing at least 50% of available funds toward electrification projects.

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