(TNS) — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Wednesday said it will use $47 million paid by Volkswagen for the company's air pollution violations to pay for cleaner school buses, electric car charging stations and other cleaner vehicles across the state.
PCA officials said they received more than 1,000 public comments in recent months on how to spend Minnesota's share of the massive fines the German automaker had to pay after being caught cheating on air emissions controls on diesel cars.
"The funds Minnesota is receiving through this settlement provide our state a unique opportunity to improve the quality of our air and our environment," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. "I commend the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and its many stakeholders, for developing this comprehensive proposal."
The PCA held 16 public meetings around the state to gather input on the draft plan, and the final version "balances and reflects the large amount of wide-ranging input heard,'' the agency said Wednesday.
The Minnesota Volkswagen settlement funds will be distributed in three phases over 10 years, through 2027, with 40 percent of the funds targeting greater Minnesota. The final plan details the first phase of spending settlement funds to replace large, older, dirtier diesel equipment or vehicles. Later phases will "take account of changing technologies and lessons learned in the first phase."
Minnesota will use 20 percent of the money to help pay for cleaner school buses, 35 percent for cleaner heavy duty on-road vehicles like trucks, 15 percent for cleaner off-road heavy equipment, 15 percent for buying new heavy duty electric vehicles and 15 percent for new electric vehicle charging stations.
The spending plan was praised by Michael Noble, executive director of the environmental group Fresh Energy.
"Rural utilities, cities, counties and schools have all expressed interest in electrifying their fleet vehicles and buses and this plan makes sure people in every corner of the state has a chance to access these funds,'' Noble said in responding to the state plan. "Electrifying our transportation system improves air quality in our neighborhoods and reduces emissions overall. This settlement is a big opportunity to move Minnesota forward in cleaning up our transportation system."
The PCA plans to seek initial requests for proposals to replace school buses and install electric vehicle charging stations in May or June. Requests for proposals for the other grant programs will be released over the coming year.
Volkswagen has agreed to settle allegations that it violated the federal Clean Air Act by selling vehicles that emit air pollution over the legal limit and by cheating on federal emission tests to hide the excess pollution. The affected vehicles exceed federal emission limits for nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that harms public health and also contributes to ozone or smog formation.
The company admitted that about 11 million of its vehicles made between 2009 and 2016 were designed to cheat on required emissions tests. The settlement was approved by a federal court in California on Oct. 25, 2016, with the company paying $2.9 billion into an environmental mitigation trust fund to be shared among the states and tribes. The money will be used to offset the excess air pollution caused by VW's actions.
Separate parts of the settlement required Volkswagen to spend $10 billion to buy back affected vehicles, terminate leases early or repair the vehicles. Volkswagen also is required to invest $2 billion over 10 years in electric vehicle charging stations and education.
©2018 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.