Friday, July 28, 2017

Shaping Washington’s plan for the $112.7 million from Volkswagen

Washington is poised to receive $112.7 million from Volkswagen and that’s good news. Before any spending can take place, we need to draft a plan on how to use the funds. That’s what Ecology and our partner state agencies have been working on along with the public.

If you’re not familiar, Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by manufacturing diesel vehicles with software that cheated emissions tests by only turning on the vehicle’s emission control systems when the car was being tested. EPA uncovered the fraudulent act and the company known for fun-loving and environmentally-friendly cars was penalized.

Volkswagen entered into multiple settlement agreements with the EPA that affect all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and tribes. As a result of the agreements, the automaker must: 

  • Provide consumer relief to owners of vehicles that failed to meet federal emissions standards.
  • Invest in and develop zero emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure.
  • Deposit $3 billion into a mitigation trust for states and tribes to offset excess nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles. Wilmington Trust was appointed by the court as trustee to oversee the funds on March 15, 2017.

Funds to reduce air pollution

Out of the $3 billion Volkswagen must pay to states and tribes, Washington is eligible to receive $112.7 million. That amount was based on the number of affected vehicles registered in the state and can be used to reduce air pollution from transportation. 
In order to receive the money, Washington must do two things. First they must submit beneficiary certification documents and secondly, submit a mitigation plan that explains how the $112.7 will be allocated. 
Percentage of affected vehicles in Washington counties.

Requirements for spending the money

The court issued a consent decree which specifies how the money can be spent. Funds can be used to:

Reduce diesel pollution by replacing or repowering vehicles and equipment with new diesel engines, alternative-fueled engines (compressed natural gas, propane, or hybrid), or all-electric engines.  
Replace specific types of vehicles and equipment:
  • Airport ground support equipment.
  • Class 8 local freight trucks and port drayage trucks.
  • Class 4-8 school/shuttle/transit buses.
  • Class 4-7 local trucks.
  • Ferries and tugboats.
  • Forklifts and cargo handling equipment at ports.
  • Freight switcher locomotives.
  • Light duty zero emission vehicle supply equipment (limited to 15% of funds).
  • Matching funds for projects eligible under the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA).
  • Shorepower for ocean going vessels.

States must also consider how to fund projects based on the benefits of reducing nitrogen oxides emissions in communities that have been disproportionately affected by them. 

Nitrogen oxides emissions and your health 

Nitrogen oxides contribute to harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. These pollutants can cause or contribute to serious health problems like:
  • Headaches
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Aggravated asthma symptoms.
  • Decreased lung function.
  • Irritation of the eyes and airways causing coughing or difficulty breathing.
  • Respiratory infections.
  • Cancer.
  • Increased health care costs.

People at the most risk are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Health effect research shows that death rates in several U.S. cities increased when there were higher levels of particulate matter in the air. 

Nitrogen oxides emissions in Washington

The map below includes estimated nitrogen oxides emissions from on-road vehicles (e.g. cars, trucks, semi-trucks, etc.), non-road vehicles/equipment (e.g. for construction, agriculture, airports, etc.), marine vessels and pleasure craft, fuel use by various industries, and railroad equipment.

Drafting Washington’s plan

Ecology is working with the Departments of Transportation, Commerce, and Health as well as holding webinars, surveys, and stakeholder meetings to gather input from the public, local governments, businesses, and environmental interest groups. Recordings and results of these outreach activities, as well as additional details on the federal settlement are all hosted on Ecology’s website.

Our most recent survey asked people which of the permitted categories were most important to them. The results of that survey, shown below, are helping us draft our mitigation plan. 

Ecology is dedicated to keeping you informed as the settlement progresses. Sign up for our listserv to receive important updates, notices of stakeholder meetings and webinars via email.

By Kim Allen | Air Quality

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