North Carolina’s first electric school bus is top of the class

July 27, 2022

The Cherokee Boys Club in Cherokee, North Carolina has had its electric school bus since early 2022. Everything’s going great: For summer school sessions, the bus did two routes per day on one charge, running clean and quiet. The interior is the same as a diesel bus, so the drivers feel at home.

Except… the hushed motor might be a double-edged sword for adults.

“That’s one thing about the electric bus, you can actually hear the kids talk about you,” said Donnie Owle, service manager for the nonprofit club, which runs all bus service for the Cherokee Central School System. 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ new electric bus is the first in North Carolina, but certainly not the last. So far, the state has awarded funding for six electric school buses to districts across the state, including the tribe’s, through its share of the Volkswagen settlement, which amounts to more than $90 million for projects that lower harmful carbon emissions and improve local air quality. Separately, the Cherokee Boys Club has ordered five additional electric buses, due at the end of 2022, and has applied to fund 14 more, which would make their fleet 100% electric. After that phase, they plan to take their commitment to clean energy to the next level by offsetting the electricity used to charge the buses by installing a solar bus depot canopy. 

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed, EPA Secretary Michael Regan with tribal members and students.

“We’re hoping to totally electrify the Boys Club school bus fleet,” said Katie Tiger, the tribe’s air quality program supervisor. A growing number of school districts are also recognizing that electric school buses are the way of the future because they help meet climate goals and cut airborne toxins, among other benefits.

In addition to the state funding, one of the country’s largest energy utilities, Duke Energy, has helped fund charging installation at the Cherokee Boys Club—originally founded in 1932 as a Boarding School and now a self-supporting Tribal Enterprise. The next four buses are paid for through a US Environmental Protection Agency grant, a fifth bus through the Boys Club itself. For the remaining 14 buses, the tribe is seeking federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Tiger had already been planning to seek funding for the first bus directly from the 2016 U.S. settlement with Volkswagen over the car company’s violation of tailpipe emissions requirements. But, she learned through the Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition that the tribe could seek that money through North Carolina. 

“We could have applied as a tribe and been a beneficiary,” Tiger said, but seeking funds through the state instead “was just a much easier process than applying to the Volkswagen settlement ourselves.” The bus was delivered in March 2022 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony where excited students got to take a ride and learn about the difference between electric and diesel models.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed speaks at the ribbon cutting

The Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition had been following the Volkswagen settlement process, said Bill Eaker, a former coordinator (now retired) with the coalition who worked with the tribe on the grant. The coalition—part of the Land of Sky Regional Council—promotes the use of alternative fuels in the rural five-county area surrounding Asheville.

“Our job was to make sure that all our stakeholders’ fleets knew about these funding opportunities—especially this one, because it was so significant,” he said. “One of the goals of our coalition was to bring as much of that money back to our region as possible.” 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been proactive about alternative fuels: It began making its own biodiesel in 2012. Owle was open to the idea of an electric bus, but he had questions. In addition to making sure the Thomas Built bus had enough range to do its job efficiently, Owle wondered about how the bus would drive. Could it handle the Smoky Mountain region’s hilly terrain? 

“It exceeded my expectations by 100 percent. The bus has plenty of power,” he said, adding that the bus doesn’t need charging between daily runs. 

Eaker helped Tiger and Owle gather the information they needed to get funding and move ahead with the buses. The Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition is part of the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Coalition Network, which hosts regular events and offers a way for groups to share knowledge.

“One of the things we were hearing through the Clean Cities Network … was that it was critical for fleets that were looking at going electric—especially with medium and heavy-duty vehicles like buses—to start a dialogue with their utility very early in the process,” Eaker said. He encouraged the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to engage with Duke Energy, which provided some funding and technical assistance on designing and installing chargers for the Cherokee Boys Club buses.

Tiger acknowledges that sometimes people are on the fence about something new. “We’re not saying it’s a fix-all for what our environment is going through. But we know that this is better locally, and it’s better for the kids. It provides a healthier riding environment to and from school,” she said. “That’s what’s important.”

The Cherokee Boys Club is also a service vendor for Thomas Built Buses, so Owle has trained technicians to work on the new school buses.  

“America is going electric. It’s coming, no matter what,” he said. “With us being the forerunner, we’re ready for it.”


I want to buy an EV… now what?

July 20, 2022

With many of us grappling with months of high prices at the pump, it’s no wonder that 36% of people recently polled by Consumer Reports said they plan to buy or lease an all-electric vehicle (EV). Hundreds of thousands of prospective EV owners have pledged to make their next car electric. If you’re ready to go electric today, after talking to an EV owner – what’s your first step?

1. Consider your driving habits

Do you live in an urban area where you routinely take short trips (the average daily commute is only around 30 miles) or will you need a vehicle with a greater range? This will impact what type of EV you’re looking for: an older EV model (typically with a smaller battery capacity) or a newer model with an extended range. (The Hyundai Ioniq 5 can go more than 300 miles on a single charge!)

2. Map out your accessibility to charging infrastructure

In the Consumer Reports poll, 61% of those responding they were not planning to get an EV cited charging logistics as a barrier, while 52% pointed to costs. Many EVs can charge using a common 110 volt electrical outlet (the same type of outlet you’d plug your toaster into), but it will take longer to charge the battery. Faster charging options cost more to install, but give greater certainty you’ll get into a car with a fully charged battery. 

Charging infrastructure now is widely available in many cities across the country in shopping centers and other areas where people tend to drive and leave their cars for long periods of time. More workplaces are even jumping on the charging infrastructure wagon to encourage employees who may want to return to the office. You can also have a Level 2 charger installed at home for even faster charge times—it runs on the same power as your dryer—but requires an electrician to install. Many dealers can help you find an experienced local electrician to help.

3. Check your insurance coverage

With any large, long-term purchase, you’ll want to protect your EV whether you are leasing it or outright buying it. Calling ahead to check auto insurance rates will give you a full picture of any potential changes in coverage amounts, deductibles, or other unanticipated costs. While you’re at it, confirm with your homeowners or renters insurance carrier of any changes that might occur to that policy should you install a charging system. 

4. Check for incentives to cash in on all of the benefits of EV ownership.

Many states offer their own financial incentives – in addition to the federal rebate – for EVs. Remember, the federal government also offers up to a $7500 rebate on most models to EV drivers when they purchase the vehicle – and that’s money that can go toward insurance, charging infrastructure, or buying a car with even more range. 

5. Review your past three months of electricity bills. 

While you’ll no longer be at the mercy of the world oil market prices, you’ll still need to fuel up your EV. Being aware of your current electricity rate will give you a sense of the long-term savings after the upfront installation costs. Also think of the time you’ll save not taking those trips to the gas station and charging up at home—that’s time and money you get back.

6. Plan your trip to the DMV. 

Most U.S. states treat electric car purchases no differently than a traditional fossil-fuel-powered purchase. Whether you get your car in or outside of the state you live in, the DMV of your home state will want the following information. Tip: if you buy from an auto dealer, they do all of this for you.

  • The vehicle’s title 
  • A record of the odometer mileage (if the vehicle is less than 10 years old).
  • A smog certification (check with your state – no tailpipe might mean no smog test)
  • Applicable state and EV fees and a use tax.

7. Start Shopping

It is a seller’s market for EVs right now with most models being very tough to come by, but that shouldn’t stop you from jumping into the test drive process. Start by contacting local dealerships to see if they carry the model or meet the criteria of the type of EV you’re looking for. If they don’t have a model currently on the lot, ask if they anticipate a delivery or get their recommendation for who to contact next. You can also search car sites like,, or to learn more about inventory in your area and where you’ll soon drive off with the EV vehicle of your dreams. 

8. Can’t get your hands on an EV? 

You can still sign the pledge to make your next car purchase electric and become an ambassador for electric vehicles to drive public adoption and bust misconceptions. Already signed it? Send the link to a friend (or teenager and soon-to-be-driver) who should join you. 

Remember, at the end of the day, an electric vehicle is still just a car—it’s just a better car that is more fun to drive, saves you money, and has zero tailpipe emissions.

Want more? Here are some excellent resources that won’t leave you driving a lemon.


Between a Rock and a Gavel

July 13, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of polluters when they sided against recognizing the U.S. EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

This ruling was a major blow to the planet and makes it harder to fight climate change. In West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the conservative 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court limited the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions in the power sector. They argued that under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA had exceeded congressional authority by pushing utilities to move towards clean energy and away from fossil fuel power generation.

So, what’s next?

Where do we go from here knowing we have limited time to act on climate to prevent the worst from happening? How do we do this work while maintaining hope that what many of us are fighting for will one day become a reality? And what does all of this mean for you?

For answers, we looked to a few of the leaders we trust who have been in the climate and justice fight for a long time.

Here is what they had to say: 

“The decision will have far-reaching implications and will compromise the ability of federal agencies to use science-based information to combat climate change and protect public health. But this decision still leaves room for the EPA to act on its duty to take on carbon pollution from power plants. We will continue to fight back — our lives and our planet depend on it.” – Earthjustice Senior Vice President, Sambhav Sankar

While global air pollution affects everyone on earth, it does not affect everyone equally. Unfortunately, we know that most Americans live with unsafe air pollution levels. Communities of color are far more likely to live in areas with higher rates of air pollution, toxic waste facilities, and landfills, and those communities are fighting for environmental justice.

“Of all regions of the country, the South has the most to lose from unchecked climate change. And the most to gain from an economy that relies on clean energy. Our environment is only as clean as the regulations that protect it. Today’s decision is devastating for the South and for the country, and should heighten the urgency for localities, states, and for us all to take action for climate solutions.” – Senior Attorney Frank Rambo, Leader of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Clean Energy and Air Program

This decision is part of an even broader radical, conservative-led effort to weaken the government’s ability to regulate anything. Despite this decision, we must continue to hold polluters accountable and fight to protect our rights for a clean and just planet.

“Moms across the country call on EPA to act with urgency and speed to get limits of fossil-fuels power plants — and cars and trucks, oil and gas development, and industrial sources — on the books. EPA must remain true to its mission, to protect human health and the environment.” – Dominique Browning, Vice President, EDF; Director and Co-Founder Moms Clean Air Force

Many utilities have been closing coal plants over the past decade since cleaner forms of energy are the wiser economical choice, like solar farms and wind turbines. Yet, companies in the coal business and the trade group America’s Power, which led the court case against the EPA, wield their power to protect fossil fuel interests.

“Decisions like WV vs. EPA make it clear just how much the system is rigged against us. A Supreme Court that sides with the fossil fuel industry over the health and safety of its people is anti-life and illegitimate. As we figure out what this means for us, Biden must expand the court and use all of his executive authority to justly transition our country to 100% renewable energy.” – Sunrise Movement

Even with the EPA’s restricted ability to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions, there is still plenty we can do to reverse the current climate trajectory.

“The ruling recognizes the EPA’s authority to limit the carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, while narrowing the agency’s options for doing so. This leaves the EPA in the climate fight but makes it harder to win it. Under the Court’s decision, the EPA can still write standards that require these plants to operate more cleanly. Nearly eight in ten Americans—78 percent—support such limits. It’s time for the EPA to use the full extent of its lawful authority to cut this pollution.” – Manish Bapna, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Millions of people and the majority of the country are aligned to fight for a healthy planet; check out how you can have an impact by channeling your anger or anxiety into action. Stay well, and stay safe. We have a long fight ahead—but together, we’ve got this.


Let’s celebrate energy independence

July 7, 2022

Every July 4th, the smell of burgers grilling, sound of firecrackers bursting, and sight of sparklers sizzling remind us of the freedom we enjoy here in America.

As we clean up from the cookout and get ready for the second half of summer, another type of liberty is on people’s minds—energy independence.

Across the country, Americans are cranking up the AC and turning on fans to contend with climate change-caused sweltering conditions. Despite falling about 1% in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy consumption is set to grow 4% in 2022 driven by urbanization and increased access to electricity. 

To meet this demand, America still depends on foreign oil, which keeps us vulnerable to international crises and tied to dictators who don’t share our values.

We need a new framework for energy independence—an electrified economy powered by locally-produced wind and solar, freeing us from contributing to the problem we’re trying to solve.

What does ‘energy independence’ actually mean?

Energy independence has been relegated to a buzzword, with people choosing to define the phrase in ways that support their arguments. The simplest definition is when a country produces more energy than it consumes.

Even though America technically produces enough oil to meet its needs, it would be inefficient to base all of our consumption solely on domestic production. Foreign oil is often cheaper to get out of the ground, for a variety of reasons. Also, American-drilled oil tends to be light and sweet, so heavier foreign oil needs to be imported for industries that require that type. Pivoting to the growing demand for wind and solar energy would also lessen our reliance on importing heavy crude.

True energy independence in the US would mean freedom from foreign oil producers and insulation against unpredictable price shocks. The key here isn’t to produce more domestic oil to fill the gap—it’s to transition to a clean energy-based economy that would sever our reliance on foreign oil producers who don’t share our interest in creating a healthier future for everyone.

Benefits of renewables-based energy independence

Besides the obvious environmental value of being carbon-free, wind and solar energy are abundant and don’t require harmful drilling.

Anchored by these two sources, renewables can set the foundation for true energy independence in America—the kind where energy is produced where it is used and needed, not shipped from halfway across the globe.

Unlike most issues of our time, this one appeals to both sides of the aisle. The left has been a long-time advocate for the climate-friendly aspects of wind and solar, while conservative states are beginning to embrace, and even lead the way, in adopting these technologies. Texas, long associated with oil production, has by far the most clean power installations in the country – with more growth forecasted. Other agriculture-heavy, Midwestern states like Iowa and Oklahoma are building wind farms at a breakneck pace.

Residents across the Great Plains are finding that wind farms produce just as many, if not more, jobs than fossil fuel power plants. Farmers also enjoy the security that leasing turbines on their fields provides—in a bad crop year, profits from generated wind energy can offset losses. Utility companies see wind electricity costs dropping, unlike those of coal and natural gas, and are investing accordingly.

Whether or not climate change is the reason for renewable energy adoption is beside the point. In the long term, it would be good for the planet if most of society were conscious of and concerned about climate change. Today, the most important thing is that the energy transition happens and it happens fast, regardless of the rationale behind it.

Plus, many Americans are already pursuing energy independence. More than 2.7 million households are generating their own power through a rooftop solar system to meet their energy needs, many of which are using that clean energy to charge their electric cars. By pairing solar with a battery storage system, you can use the excess energy generated from the solar panels during the day stored in the battery, freeing you from relying on the grid. Many hospitals and schools already leverage solar + battery storage to enhance their resiliency during power outages or in the midst of natural disasters when the power grid goes down.

Politics play a central role in the transition

In the interest of advancing the renewable energy movement, President Biden recently invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to spur domestic manufacturing in various types of clean energy. While this legislation is by no means a catch-all, it does send the right signals to industry and funds projects that are working towards a clean energy economy.

The administration has many reasons beyond climate change to build a robust American energy sector.

First of all, safeguarding a reliable supply of oil is really expensive. The U.S. government spends an estimated $81 billion per year protecting oil supplies around the globe to ensure that American gas stations are always stocked. This astronomical sum doesn’t even include the war in Iraq, which many believe was waged at least in part due to fear of a global energy crisis.

Aside from the expense, foreign oil interests hamper countries’ ability to intervene in unjust government systems abroad due to a fear of trade retaliation. European countries recently found themselves in this precarious position. Russia supplies more than a third of Europe’s gas, leaving European Union members with a bleak choice—either ban Russian oil imports and send gas prices through the roof, or continue to buy Russian gas and indirectly fund their war effort against Ukraine.

If these countries work to meet most of their energy demand with locally-produced renewables, they can avoid similar predicaments in the future. Energy independence creates multiple political wins, including freedom from trade retaliation and built-in domestic energy security.

Let’s celebrate a new kind of independence

Nearly all Americans agree that less dependence on foreign actors for our energy needs is a good thing. The divergence comes from how that independence can be realized—some argue that more domestic fossil fuel production will get us there, but oil prices are still determined by global markets.

Long-term, sustainable energy independence should be built around local power generation, primarily from wind and solar. The closer we get to this goal, the more resilient we become as a country.

So what can you do to celebrate? Take energy independence into your own hands. Pursue your own renewable energy sources by going solar—or contact your elected officials to push them toward state and federal energy independence. We all can step up to help us achieve a clean energy future.