Tom Smart, Deseret News
One of the diesel-powered school buses which has been retrofitted with a pollution control device to help improve air quality at Horizon Elementary in Murray, Utah, December 2008. The Utah House on Tuesday voted in favor of a bill that creates a $20 million grant program to replace diesel school buses with alternative fuel vehicles.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's diesel school bus fleet may get an alternative fuel upgrade if a bill overwhelmingly approved by the House on Tuesday becomes law.

HB41, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, calls for $20 million from the state's education fund to be used as grants to replace buses manufactured before 2002 with new alternative fuel or clean fuel models.

School districts applying for grants would be required to use matching funds to purchase vehicles, Handy said, and a portion of the grant money would be used for infrastructure upgrades.

"Really, in the big picture, this is a $40 million clean air initiative," he said.

Depending on the type of alternative fuel vehicle purchases through the grant, schools would save roughly $40,000 in fuel costs over the life of a vehicle, Handy said.

If the full $20 million is used to purchase new vehicles, the total fuel savings over the life of the state's school bus fleet could be as much as $58 million, he said.

"We're talking a big deal, a big savings over the lifespan of these buses," Handy said.

The House voted 73-1 to approve the bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill has also received the support of the Utah Parent Teacher Conference and Utah Association of Secondary School Principals. The State School Board supports the concept of the bill but stopped short of formally endorsing it.

— Benjamin Wood