NASHVILLE — The Tenn. Dept. of Environment and Conservationon Wednesday announced that 39 entities across the state — including the Hancock Co. School System — will share in $8.9 million in grant funding to support school bus replacement projects.

The competitive grant program, which is the state’s first grant program funded by the Volkswagen Diesel Settlement Environmental Mitigation Trust, will provide financial assistance to to replace a minimum of one eligible school bus with any new diesel, alternate-fueled, or all-electric school bus. The purpose of the EMT is to execute environmental mitigation projects that reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides.

In 2015, Volkswagen publicly admitted that it had secretly and deliberately installed a defeat device — software designed to cheat emissions tests and deceive federal and state regulators — in approximately 590,000 model year 2009 to 2016 motor vehicles containing 2.0 and 3.0 liter diesel engines.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against VW, alleging that the company had violated the Clean Air Act. In October 2016 and May 2017, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, approved two partial settlements related to the affected 2.0 and 3.0 liter vehicles, respectively, totaling $14.9 billion.

In April 2017, a third partial settlement, addressing civil penalties and injunctive relief, was approved by the Court. Under the third partial settlement, VW has paid a $1.45 billion civil penalty for the alleged civil violations of the Clean Air Act. The money was collected via the Department of Justice and was deposited to the U.S. Treasury.

“These grants will help us to better protect our children and our environment,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “Investing in technologically-advanced transportation updates, particularly in our rural counties, is one way we are supporting the health and safety of our students.”

“Projects supported by this program will reduce air pollutants that threaten public health and the environment,” said David Salyers, commissioner of TDEC. “By lowering school bus emissions, we can enhance quality of life in our state, particularly for our children.”

After conducting a comprehensive review of all grant applications, TDEC selected the grantees that will replace a total of 143 engine model year 2009 or older school buses with 68 new diesel, one all-electric, 66 propane, and eight compressed natural gas school buses.

These projects are expected to yield NOx emissions reductions of an estimated 117,725.95 pounds, or 58.86 tons, over the lifetime of the new vehicles.

Of the buses funded, 44 will operate in economically distressed counties, defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission as those counties that rank among the 10 percent most economically distressed counties in the nation based on a three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate.