State Setting Aside $75M From VW Settlement for Emissions Reduction Programs

Maryland will use the millions of dollars it received in a federal settlement with Volkswagen to improve air quality in multiple ways, according to a draft plan unveiled by several state agencies Thursday. Under the plan, the state would invest tens of millions of dollars on electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the replacement of old, dirty diesel engines with clean diesel engines, among other things. The $75.7 million available for clean air programs comes from Maryland’s portion of a federal settlement with VW, after the automaker in 2016 admitted to using “defeat devices” from 2009 to 2015 to mask the fact that certain cars were not hitting U.S. emissions goals. About 16,000 of these illegal vehicles were sold in Maryland alone. Volkswagen was touting “clean diesel” cars like this one at auto shows, but many turned out to be equipped with “defeat devices” designed to skirt emissions standards. The federal settlement against the automaker is yielding $75 million for the state of Maryland.  In its settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, VW agreed to pay $2.7 billion overall for emissions reduction programs nationwide. “The silver lining to VW’s environmental scandal is significant new funding for clean air and climate progress in Maryland,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “This detailed plan advances our priorities and listens to citizens, communities, and businesses.” The Maryland plan focuses on ways to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which generate ground-level ozone, the prime ingredient of smog, into the atmosphere. State officials estimate that the illegal vehicles from Volkswagen and affiliated companies emitted up to 1,730 tons of excess NOx – the equivalent of an additional 375,000 vehicles on Maryland roads each day. Ozone levels statewide meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 75-parts-per-billion federal ozone standard set in 2008, and 13 of the state’s 18 ozone monitors are measuring levels that meet the new, 2015 federal standard of 70 parts per billion. However, areas of Maryland do not meet the newer standard. Trump administration officials had vowed to overturn the Obama-era smog regulations, but EPA surprised stakeholders by announcing this week that it would seek to maintain the 2015 ozone standard and would defend it in court – for now. The administration on Thursday did announce that it was rolling back Obama-era auto emissions rules. Maryland’s draft spending plan was developed by MDE, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Energy Administration using guidelines on eligible projects in the federal settlement. State officials sought input from stakeholders around the state, including members of the Maryland Climate Change Commission, the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council, as well as state environmental agencies and organizations from around the country. The plan identifies who can receive funding, including federal and local governments as well as private businesses and highly impacted communities – areas of the state that historically and currently experience high levels of ground level ozone. Approximately 70 percent of the funding is reserved for partnerships with these groups. The majority of the money is to go to projects, with little going to administrative costs, to ensure maximum air pollution reductions for Maryland, officials said. The draft plan identifies types of projects eligible for funding, including replacement of older, heavy duty diesel engines with new diesel engines that are up to 70 percent cleaner or engines that use alternative fuels. Electric buses and heavy duty equipment such as trucks, boats and locomotives are potential projects that are eligible for funding. The draft plan also provides flexibility for groups to work in partnership with the state on priority projects. “MDOT is taking action to reduce emissions across our transportation business units by investing in clean and innovative technology, including new electric buses at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport,” said Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. Joshua Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, called the state’s plan “a good start,” but suggested more could be done. We are excited to see millions of dollars proposed for investment into electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and we strongly affirm that the state direct investments into communities that have been overburdened by dangerous and harmful diesel pollution for decades,” he said. “We will be looking very closely at the draft plan and offering our feedback to the state to ensure that as much money as possible is flowing toward non-emitting, electric solutions in the transportation sector.” The Department of the Environment is taking public comment on the plan through Aug. 31. Maryland will also hold regional public meetings on the draft plan, though those have not been scheduled yet. The draft plan and additional information on the public comment process may be found on the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website at mde.maryland.gov/vwplan [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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