Biden Releases $500 Million for Electric School Bus Plan That Could Help Save Thousands of Lives

The $500 million is a part of $5 billion initiative to provide school districts around the country with low or no-emissions school buses, replacing nearly half a million buses that run on diesel.

a little kid steps on to a school bus as sun shines on him
Cavan Images / Getty Images

On Friday, May 20th, the Biden Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first round of funding for its new green school buses initiative. The funds, $500 million, are part of $5 billion that was earmarked earlier this year to provide school districts around the country with low- and no-emissions school buses to replace the current diesel buses.

In March of 2022, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden administration’s plans to release the $5 billion in federal funds to purchase electric school buses. The 560,000 school buses that take about 25 million kids to and from school travel over six billion miles a year — making them the most extensive public transportation network in the country. Greenifying the fleet (ninety-five percent of which run on diesel fuel) will not only target one of the largest public transport systems nationwide but it will also have cascading effects on the environment and the health of kids. (The program doesn’t just electrify school buses: city buses, other public transportation, and regulation of heavy-duty vehicles will also be targeted.)

The funds come as part of Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, which allows the Environmental Protection Agency to prioritize 40% of the funds to underserved and marginalized school districts like those found in urban areas, Tribal schools, and rural parts of the country. The White House estimates that over time the program will result in 2,000 fewer deaths per year, 18,000 fewer cases of asthma, and 1.8 million fewer missed days of school for kids around the country.

“We expect to see a significant drop in cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in kids and bus drivers and teachers who load our precious cargo before and after school,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told Fatherly when the funds were first announced in mid-March.

Diesel exhaust is a well-documented pollutant that contributes to several health concerns, including asthma, new on-set allergies, and other respiratory problems. The exhaust from older diesel-run buses with no pollution control can increase cancer risk. Children are at higher risk of developing health problems related to diesel fumes because their lungs are still developing, making them more susceptible to asthma, allergies, and other issues.

“This historic investment under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will forever transform school bus fleets across the United States,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “These funding opportunities to replace older, heavily-polluting buses will result in healthier air for many of the 25 million American children who rely on school buses, many of whom live in overburdened and underserved communities. Today we take a major step toward a future where clean, zero-emissions school buses are the American standard.”

Besides the health impacts — which are numerous — the electrification of school buses will also have a significant, and positive, environmental impact. Diesel exhaust contributes to ground-level ozone which is harmful to crops; it is more detrimental to the climate than carbon dioxide; and it contributes to acid rain, which is devastating for aquatic life and crops and can contaminate groundwater.

“When we think about electric school buses, we’re thinking about our most precious cargo, which is our children. It’s exciting to see school districts leaning into electrifying the yellow school bus fleet for the health of our children and to reduce climate change impacts. I, as a father, am extremely excited to see all these actions,” Regan told Fatherly after the initiative was announced this spring.