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America's school buses are getting a new, $400 million makeover — and the change could make millions of kids healthier

Students in the affected areas will enjoy health benefits from reduced exposure to exhaust.

Clean School Bus program, electric school buses

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The EPA announced that it will award about $400 million to qualifying school districts to buy safer, less-polluting electric and low-emission buses, Electrek reported.

The Clean School Bus Program was authorized in 2021 by the Biden administration's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which created support for a wide range of eco-friendly infrastructure programs, according to Electrek. The law took effect in 2022.

That year, the EPA began by awarding about $1 billion to qualifying school districts across the country, Electrek reported. The money was distributed by random lottery and was earmarked for new school buses — specifically less-polluting models.

According to Electrek, many of the school buses used in the U.S. are diesel. These produce exhaust which is toxic and contains heat-trapping gases. The exhaust becomes more concentrated inside the bus itself, which can cause health problems for children.

Switching to alternative, cleaner-burning fuels is healthier for kids and is the option about 10% of schools chose for the first round of funding, Electrek reported. But 90% of schools opted for electric buses, which don't burn any fuel and therefore don't produce exhaust at all. 

Electrek said that schools making this change in the past saw an increase in attendance as the cleaner buses meant fewer sick days for children staying home due to illness.

Now, the EPA has an additional $400 million to award for cleaner school buses and charging stations. But rather than a random lottery, the money will be awarded to schools based on detailed applications for the program. According to the EPA, applications are due by 4 p.m. ET on February 14.

Matt Stanberry, vice president at Highland Electric Fleets, told Electrek that schools will be awarded points for their ability to cover some costs, experience with electrification projects, the probable success of their plans, and how much the change will reduce air pollution and benefit sustainability in their area. Funds will be awarded based on those points.

Students in the affected areas will also enjoy health benefits from reduced exposure to exhaust. Meanwhile, electric buses produce no heat-trapping gases from their tailpipes, making them one more piece of the puzzle when it comes to cooling down the planet.

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