Wheels in motion for VW to compensate Texas for dirty air

Texas is set to receive $209 million as part of the legal settlement for Volkswagen’s decade-long scheme to cheat on diesel emissions tests in the United States and elsewhere. That is because the German automaker sold more than 40,000 non-compliant vehicles in the state, resulting in Texans breathing dirtier air.

The money is for projects that reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides. It is in addition to civil penalties and other legal settlements, which include an agreement for the company to invest in zero-emission, all-electric vehicle technology and infrastructure.

For Texas, the road to cleaner air began in early October. Here are three steps the state needs to take:

  1. Secure funding

Before Texas can receive its share of the money, it must become a beneficiary of the trust, which was set up to compensate states for the emissions-cheating scandal. This first step is also the easiest. It is a paperwork exercise in advance of the hard decisions.

  1. Pick a lead agency

Gov. Greg Abbott should pick the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, as the lead agency for managing these funds. That is the recommendation of the Texas Clean Air Working Group, which includes local governments, business groups and environmental organizations. Environmental Defense Fund is among the group’s members.

We reached this conclusion because of TCEQ’s experience administering the successful Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP, which provides funding for upgrading or replacing heavy-duty vehicles and equipment to attain the goal of reducing pollution by getting rid of older, dirtier engines.

Simply, it would not make sense for another state agency to take the lead. Texas needs to move quickly because other states have selected their lead agencies already.

  1. Prioritize projects

This is toughest part because there are so many worthy projects. There are 10 categories for eligibility, with an emphasis on the potential for significant reductions in smog-forming nitrogen oxides. The categories include:

  • Electrification of cargo-handling equipment;
  • Electrification of airport ground equipment;
  • Switcher locomotives (repower/replacement);
  • Tugs/ferries (repower);
  • Ocean-going vessel shorepower;
  • Contribution toward state Diesel Emission Reduction Act projects;
  • Heavy-duty trucks used in drayage/freight/waste/dump applications (repower/replacement);
  • Buses used in school/shuttle/transit applications (repower/replacement);
  • Trucks used in local freight;
  • Charging equipment for light-duty zero-emission vehicles.

It is important for the state to get public input on potential projects. EDF, for one, is evaluating the best ways to use the VW funding in Texas. We will share our recommendations in future posts.

Texas faces a Dec. 1 deadline to submit its documentation to become a beneficiary. Once the trustee approves beneficiary status for Texas – no later than Jan. 30, 2018 – the state will have three months to develop and distribute a plan for spending the money.

It is a lot of work. But the potential for cleaner air quality will be worth the effort. EDF is looking forward to being part of the conversation, and we encourage other stakeholders to join in the effort.

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