As part of its settlement with federal authorities over its diesel cheating scheme, Volkswagen agreed to establish a fund of nearly $3 billion to be distributed to all 50 states. Under the terms of the settlement, each state is allowed to use its share of the money for various purposes. The common element in all of the options is that the money be used to lower air pollution from the transportation sector.
“Volkswagen breached customers’ trust and put all of our health at risk,” Sam Landenwitsch, senior vice president for The Public Interest Network, tells CleanTechnica in an email. “But the Volkswagen settlement provides states with the perfect opportunity to kick-start the transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system. A lot of good is coming out of how states are spending this money — but many states are not going nearly far enough.”
The US Public Interest Research Group says, “Under the terms of the settlement, states can spend their share of the Environmental Mitigation Trust funds in several different ways, including by purchasing newer diesel vehicles, natural gas vehicles, and electric vehicles, as well as repowering older diesel vehicles with newer engines or electric motors. States are also allowed to use up to 15 percent of their award on electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.”
All states except Florida* have filed reports detailing how they intend to spend the money they received. PIRG has examined those reports and says most states have failed to use the money in a way that will do the most good — electrifying the transportation sector.
“There is no question that we need cleaner vehicles on our roads — and there is no cleaner vehicle than an electric vehicle. No matter the electric grid, electric buses and electric vehicles produce less carbon pollution than their fossil fuel counterparts.
“Electric vehicles also have the advantage of getting cleaner as the power grid gets cleaner, and Americans have the option to power their buses and cars with renewable electricity. As a nation, we should be doing everything we can to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel powered vehicles and plug into a cleaner and healthier transportation future.
“Washington and Hawaii earned a top-of-the-class A+ for spending as much as the settlement allowed on electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electrified mass transit buses and ferries. Rhode Island and Vermont both garnered A’s. Each state committed substantial amounts to accelerate electrification, including electrifying their mass transit systems.
“Thirty-seven states receive a D or an F. To date, these states have developed plans that do not prioritize electric vehicles and instead make most, if not all, of the money available for outdated and polluting diesel or other fossil fuel-based technology.”
PIRG does have an agenda here — electrifying the entire transportation sector as soon as possible. With new reports coming out recently detailing how fossil fuel emissions — especially fine particulates, known as FPMs — are causing irreparable harm to the health and longevity of people all around the world, spending money to buy more diesel-powered vehicles seems like a poor choice for states to make.
Most people don’t know about fine particulates. The research is just now beginning to enter the public consciousness. It wasn’t that long ago we all thought DDT was a miracle product and that asbestos was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But now we know better. It’s time to eliminate FPM from our daily lives if not to save the planet than to at least stop poisoning ourselves with the detritus left behind when we burn fossil fuels.
If nothing else, the states should be devoting every available dollar to freeing America’s children from having to ride in diesel-powered school buses every day — devices almost diabolically designed to deliver a maximum dose of particulate pollution to those inside.
Even assuming the air inside those buses is pristine, when the children get on or off, they are enveloped in a miasma of diesel exhaust that stunts their growth and may impact their cognitive functioning. What could be more ironic than sending kids off to school to learn in a device that impairs their learning ability?
“Climate change is a health emergency for our families and our communities,” says Morgan Folger, director of Environment America Research & Policy Center Clean Cars Campaign. “States have the unique opportunity to fund projects that will cut carbon pollution by electrifying our cars, trucks and buses. We all deserve clean air and a stable climate, so we should make the most of the Volkswagen settlement money and accelerate electrification.”
One criticism PIRG has about most state proposals is that they do not call for spending the maximum allowed to improve EV charging infrastructure. Want to know how your state fared in the US PIRG report? For details on the PIRG study methodology and state by state findings, check out the entire 24 page report. Here’s a synopsis of the results:
PIRG points out that the state plans are simply outlines of how individual states intend to spend the money they get from the Volkswagen settlement. Individual cities and towns still have the ability to request funding for the projects they deem most important to their communities.
“The state plans set forth goals and priorities of each state, and detail what kinds of projects are eligible for funding. In large part, they set up a competitive grant process through which cities, towns, agencies, school districts, and companies can apply for funding for specific projects. This means that, even in states that received low grades on this scorecard, there remains the potential that good projects that accelerate electrification could still be funded.” PIRG says.
So don’t sit back and say, “Oh, well. There’s nothing I can do about it.” In fact, there is plenty you can do about it! Contact your local officials and let them know how you want those funds used. Believe it or not, politicians do listen to the public — if enough people take the time to make their feelings known. Act today. The brain you save could be your own!
*Editor’s note as a Floridian: Ugh.