Downing: Golden Fleece Award for a $395K electric school bus in Wrangell

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By SUZANNE DOWNING

Washington, D.C. could use another fiscal hawk like the late Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin.

During his Senate career from 1957 to 1988, Proxmire instituted a regular Golden Fleece Award, with which he mocked “the biggest, most ridiculous or most ironic example of government spending.”

Among his infamous recipients was the Department of Justice, receiving the award for conducting a study on why prisoners desire to escape. 

Another honoree was the U.S. Postal Service, spending $4 million on an ad campaign urging Americans to write more letters.

In today’s government borrow-and-spend climate, Proxmire would find an embarrassment of riches for his satirical accolades. Here’s one that would surely join the ranks:

In the hardy Southeast fishing, timber, and tourism town of Wrangell, the school district had the idea to apply for a federal grant for a new electric school bus. With the Environmental Protection Agency distributing nearly $1 billion in these electric school bus grants last year, it was raining money, so why not one for a hamlet in the rain forest?

In October, the Biden Administration awarded $395,000 to Wrangell for the purchase of the electric bus, intended to expedite the transition to zero-emission vehicles and foster “cleaner air in schools and neighboring communities.” 

Don’t get me wrong — I love Wrangell. It’s a great town and I love the people. But most students in this Alaska town can walk to school or catch a ride with an older sibling or parent who works at the school.

Wrangell, with its 2,100 souls and only about 25 miles of road, has a school system serving 263 students — at most — and two school buses. The number of students is falling so fast that the district is seriously considering combining two of the three schools into one. And there are no neighboring communities in Wrangell, unless you get on a ferry or a plane.

As for the clean air aspect, Wrangell boasts some of the cleanest air in America. It’s situated in the middle of the nation’s largest national forest, the Tongass, which is the size of Virginia yet has a population of only 70,000 across its numerous islands and archipelagos. Between the millions of carbon-capturing trees and millions of acres of carbon-absorbing ocean, Wrangell is in a rainforest that is already on hydro power. It’s not belching much of anything into the air, which is swept clean by ocean breezes.

But somehow Wrangell, in spite of its voters’ overwhelming preference for President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, won a grant from the Biden Administration. 

Its success was due to the fact that more northern communities in Alaska can’t use electric buses, as their batteries just don’t last in the cold winters, and the last thing communities need is to have a bus full of children break down in sub-zero blizzards. For most of Alaska, electric vehicles don’t make sense.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was euphoric. After all, Wrangell is where her father, former Sen. Frank Murkowski, and his wife, Nancy, live. Lisa brought home the bacon.

“Congratulations to the Wrangell School District for being a recipient of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Wrangell’s new electric school bus will enhance the district’s ability to operate efficient and safe bus routes. I am thrilled to witness Alaskan communities reaping the benefits of my bipartisan infrastructure law,” she said in a statement.

The projected cost of the new electric bus itself is $375,000, with an additional $20,000 designated for a charging station. 

Thus, the nearly $400,000 to transport even half of those 263 students pencils out to $1,500 per student. That $400,000 amounts to 8% of the district’s annual school district’s $5 million operating budget for a bus that may run 10 hours a week.

This alone would qualify it for Proximire’s Golden Fleece Award, although “Golden Fleet” might also be appropriate.

But then, an unexpected hurdle arose: The EPA grant stipulates that the bus company must dispose of one of its diesel-fueled buses. Not a mere sale or decommissioning of the bus, but complete destruction was required.

Taylor Transportation, the company that has the bus contract in Wrangell, questioned the wisdom of destroying a perfectly functional school bus from its fleet.

With the clock ticking, the district approached the EPA with a proposal: Could Wrangell purchase a bus in another jurisdiction, destroy it, present evidence of its destruction to the federal agency, and subsequently qualify for the grant for the new electric bus?

The EPA saw no apparent obstacles to this unconventional workaround.

For the past few weeks, Wrangell scoured other states for a bus that fit EPA’s criteria, which includes that the bus must have served as a functional student transporter for the last two years. 

In other words, the bus Wrangell buys and destroys cannot be the dilapidated remnants of a Burning Man excursion.

In addition, not just any method of destruction will suffice. The EPA has regulations governing the disabling of a diesel school bus—no cliffs can be involved, for instance.

Sen. Proxmire would revel in the circus that is this wasteful endeavor.

Within the Infrastructure Bill, bizarre trinkets like this abound for every community across America, enough to keep Golden Fleece Awards going for years.

Regardless of party, we need more fiscal hawks like Proxmires and fewer spendthrift Murkowskis in the Senate. 

We need senators who will put their foot down on wasteful spending, not put their foot on the pedal for borrowing against the futures of our children.

Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska. Credit for original reporting on this grant to KTSK.

43 COMMENTS

  1. I’m going to take a wild guess that buried in the contract is a clause that stipulates the electric bus has to be replaced by another electric bus…..

    A normal 45 capacity bus runs in the neighborhood of $180,000. The length of service is set by the local school boards. They tend to choose shorter legal life spans.

  2. An EV has worked very well for me for several years now Suzanne. I see a lot them here in anchorage.

    • The electric bus here in Juneau is useless in winter. Takes too long to charge and the battery discharges ridiculously fast due to our mix of cold, rain, and never ending dampness.

      Wrangell is us, only a bit further south.

      If history repeats, the pork bus will be rolled out on special occasions for publicity and quietly shelved.

      SE is not Anchorage. Things from climate to infrastructure are very different here.

    • I disbelieve you completely, cman.

      The inefficiencies of battery-powered vehicles in a cold climate are well known. I highly doubt that you have personally managed to change the laws of physics to your advantage.

      This is just more of the dishonesty, and radical leftist propaganda, that we have come to expect from you.

    • Congratulations for driving a natural-gas powered vehicle, cman. Or do you have your own solar power plant?

  3. Tok school district has one, and a solar charging station for the batteries.
    Funny how school runs through the winter months when we have very few hours of sunlight for solar to be efficient. How well do those batteries work in negative forty to fifty below zero days? Maybe there’s an even bigger Golden Fleecing that took place.

  4. I wonder how many 16 passenger, 4WD vans could be purchased for 365K? Does that include the cost of equipment/wiring needed to charge that bus? Where will the electricity come from? The power fairy?

  5. Nancy, I told you Lisa was going to come through for us with federal money from Joe. We can ride the electric bus down to the package store and then you can get dropped off at the local Democrat Office where we desperately need to make some new friends. Tell them to come and ride the bus with us down to the ferry dock. There’s got to be a couple Democrats in this town who voted for Lisa. Sure can’t find any Republicans who did.

    • I’m onboard, Frankie. I think Wrangell is going to work out for us. Free bus service and no need for fossil fuels from your friends at Conoco and Phillips. And of course, we don’t need a Lear jet here in Wrangell, unless Lisa stops in for a quick visit. The last thing I heard from people in Petersburg was, “Goodbye and good riddance.”
      Like they say, “we’re movin on up.”

      • I don’t miss Petersburg a bit. Coming outa those Narrows reminds me how easy it is to scrape bottom with old Republican friends. I still have my ghostwriter doing editorials for me, while I take my daily walk to the package store. I can forget about my past and how many former friends I pissed off by appointing the little princess. Wrangell’s a good place to pull the plug. With all of my double and triple dippin pension money coming in, who the hell needs any real friends?

        • Yes, love hiding out down here in Wrangell.
          The rest of you little people can deal with Lisa now. Goodbye cruel world.

        • Be sure to turn the lights out on your new bus, Nancy. Wouldn’t want you to drain the batteries. Otherwise your’s and Frankie’s next stop may be Gustavus.

  6. Buying carbon credits becomes buying bus credits, sort of ridiculous. Let me figure out how this works, some district sells a derelict bus for the price of a new bus so taxpayers around the country can subsidize Wrangell’s Magic Bus.

  7. And the state of Alaska says “hold my beer” while the legislature spends $416 MILLION on a ferry that only goes 56 miles on a charge.

  8. Do not get into any federal program or money transfer as they always will have a baited hook. Do not bite anything the feds throw out to you. It is going to be a to good to be true statement that is real. Who every signed off on this should be fired.

  9. wrangell has 3 schools for 263 students at most? well jeez seems like your burying the lead with that kind of waste it’s no wonder why the state politicians want an income tax so bad.

    • Wrangell isn’t uncommon down here. Craig, Petersburg, Gustavus, Hoonah, etc are all in the same boat.

      Only Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan are sorta exempt. For now.

      We need to be looking a consolidation, not any kind of expansion of infrastructure. Including pork bused.

  10. man this article was a good read Suzanne, hilarious this is kind of thing is adding gas to the inflation fire.
    I just dont understand how anyone on either side of the isle can think that government can be anything other than a destructive force after seeing this kind of waste and destruction of limited precious Resorces

  11. Does the Transportation bill that was passed specifically spell out the destruction of a fuel powered bus?
    Hard to believe that the legislation would have included that sort of detail.
    This sounds like the EPA using its draconian power to make up off the charts radical rules that make no sense.
    Stay tuned, hopefully the Supreme Court is going to nip the Federal Government interpreting legislation to their own partisan ways, in the Bud. Note the case involving required Federal fish inspectors on fishing boats before the court.

  12. Read The Invisible Rainbow (History of Electricity) by Arthur Firstenberg and then tell me how this was a good idea.

  13. “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” -Ronald Reagan
    Government ineffeciency at its finest and Lisa is proud (pride should be held for when you do good lisa, not evil). It would be one thing to sell the third vehicle, destruction is just a step too far, of course. Destroy semething usefulin Alaska? I hope they find a bus with a recent siezed engine….. And of course Lisa is proud of herself, she loves destroying the country, pretender and oath breaker that she is.
    The IRA is an abomination, there is no such thing as free money. This is a case study for that, Lisa, stand up for US already or resign as the disgrace you are.

  14. Maybe they gave Wrangell the money since the City of Wrangell did such a good job with the 32 million it got after Clinton killed the logging contracts and thus the town of Wrangell. Just think, the bus could be used to bus tourists to the volunteer run golf course in Wrangell, also built with our tax dollars.

  15. But wait.. did they find their bus to destroy?? What a cliff hanger. Please do a follow up.

  16. To bad they weren’t looking for a bus during the school bus driver strike. They could have chosen any one out of a few dozen that were not being driven.

    E vehicles are a stupid idea for Alaska due to environment and geography. Might be ok for places like the immediate area around Anchorage but then the drivers will start demanding ‘someone’ provide charging stations. And E vehicles will remain a stupid idea anywhere until market forces are such as to make them profitable for companies to manufacture (without government money).

  17. The carbon credits thing again. You get the “free” electric bus but you must destroy, for all time, the diesel bus, no matter how much service life it might still have left. Kind of reminds me of leaving tons of military equipment in Afghanistan. Money is no object when it’s somebody else’s.

  18. There has never been a solar panel manufactured in the USA that was not government-subsidized. Same with electric vehicles and wind turbines. The demand is not market-driven; its contrived.

  19. Government spending is a way out of control. It has been way out of control since a Is Lyndon johnson. When he allowed social security to be put into the general fund like they did with the permanent fund? Now you know where they got the idea. And guess what there’s one point seven trillion dollars that is gone from social security. And there’s an article out there with one of the finance people from Biden’s administration stating come June 1st they might not be able to pay the. Recipients of social security because they are too incompetent to do their job and they stole all that money. The biggest question we have to ask ourselves is they gave? Birdie made off a 150 years for stealing from his clients. What about these people aren’t they held accountable to the same level in the same aspect. Electric busses are not our problem. Stupid people that think that our government is gonna do the right thing, And you bet your a** i’m 1 of them stupid people. They have no expectation to pay that back. That’s why they want to get rid of it is so they don’t have to pay it back. And then let’s look at Ronald Reagan supposedly a great president. Will there’s a great president tax people? Who collect though social security is a tax that you have to pay regardless so you get tax twice on? The. Same amount of money. That’s taxation without representation that’s stealing from taxpayers. That’s a level of incompetence never seen before. Well I shouldn’t say that we had weapons of mass destruction that we never found. But we spent twenty billion dollars there too. These people are lying big time.

  20. Using carbon free hydropower instead of fossil fuels makes sense. I met Senator Proxmire during a lunch break on Interstate 90/94 on the way to UW Eau Claire in 1974, Proxmire jogged everywhere and would have approved of carbon free transport

    • No. Senator Proxmire abhorred stupidity and criminality, that’s why he invented the Golden Fleece Awards. ‘Fleece’ as in scamming money out of the general population. He was the only senator that never campaigned after his initial election, he simply paid his filing fees for re election (around $25 if I remember right) and went back to his office. One of the few senators worthy of genuine respect.

    • There is no such thing as “carbon-free” vehicles, frank.

      How were all those metals mined, processed and refined that make up the vehicle and its battery? I guarantee you, not with battery-powered vehicles!

  21. Another aspect of the electric buses are the manufacturers. There are only a few and are fun by global boards and they have no competition. If the buses fail, like the one in Juneau, no big deal. No competitors to whisk business away. Many Democratic politicians are connected to these companies as well.

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