By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather staff
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and EPA Administrator Michael Regan were among many guests hosted in Cherokee on the morning of Tuesday, March 15 to celebrate the arrival of the Tribe’s first electric school bus, which is the first in the State of North Carolina.
The event was held at The Cherokee Convention Center and brought together the stakeholders that made this accomplishment possible for the Cherokee Boys Club (CBC) and Cherokee Central Schools (CCS). Greg Owle, manager of CBC, credited Donnie Owle, CBC service manager, and Katie Tiger, EBCI Air Quality Program Supervisor, for driving a critical part of the project. CBC Manager Owle has said that Tiger and Owle have been the ‘boots on the ground’ in Cherokee.
Governor Cooper said that this was another big step towards the goal for clean energy transportation in North Carolina.
“This is a historic day in western North Carolina as we begin electric school buses for our children. We know that this is better for their health, it’s better for our environment, and it’s great for our economy. There’s no question that the buses that are made in North Carolina by North Carolina workers are going to do a lot for making sure that our clean energy economy also helps people’s pocketbooks as we fight climate change,” said Governor Cooper.
Administrator Regan was born in Goldsboro and worked as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality from 2017 until 2021. Last year, he was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as EPA Administrator.
“It’s a great day to be here back in North Carolina. This is a perfect example of what President Biden’s vision is for this country. The partnership between the Federal government and EPA, and the state government and leadership by Governor Cooper, and partnering with our sovereign brothers and sisters,” said Regan.
“By deploying electric and low-emission school buses, fewer children will face asthma risks and other health problems linked to diesel air pollution. As EPA administrator, and as a parent, there is no higher priority for me than ensuring that all of our children across this country have clean air to breathe. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are leading the way forward in this mission.”
Administrator Regan also confirmed the new EPA grant that will see four more electric school buses coming in Cherokee as soon as this summer.
“While the Tribe just received its first electric school bus, I can confirm that it will not be the last. Today, I’m proud to announce that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is receiving the first-ever Tribal DERA (Diesel Emissions Reduction Act) funding award from EPA. More than $500,000 to help the citizens with four additional electric school buses.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed was there to speak on behalf of the EBCI.
“It’s a very exciting day. Not only for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians but I think this demonstrates what…partnerships we have with the current administration and [administrator] Regan’s leadership, and I think mostly importantly Governor Cooper’s leadership throughout his career. Both as governor and as attorney general. He’s been committed to clean air and clean energy. That fits right into what we do as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians every day. So, we’re excited to be a part of this and excited to be the recipient of the first electric school bus in North Carolina.”
Representatives from Duke Energy and Thomas Built Buses were also on stage for the event. Roy Parks, western regional sales manager for Carolina Thomas, spoke to his history working with the CBC.
“My first thought was that it was very fitting that the Cherokee Boys Club get this bus. The reason I say that is they’ve been doing it since 1932 and they do it right. They care of what they do and it’s very evident in how they operate their bus service. How they take care of their buses and maintain them each and every day. And they’re an organization that’s deeply rooted in North Carolina, just like Thomas,” said Parks.
As the project moves forward, the CBC will be working with several partners to add more electric buses to the fleet. The state of North Carolina, the EPA, Duke Energy, and Tribal Council will all be adding funds to the pot. Each fully electric bus costs $342,000 and each charging station is an additional $50,000.
Part of using cleaner energy is fully removing the current biodiesel engines from the road. As part of the grant, Donnie Owle and his team will be tasked with destroying the older buses that the electric ones will replace.
This first bus will act as a pilot program, and the responsibility now lies with the CBC to appropriately test it over the next few months. According to Owle and Tiger, the next shipment of four buses is currently scheduled for July of this year.