Alabama to get $24M in Volkswagen settlement to reduce diesel emissions – AL.com

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017

Volkswagen’s attempts to cheat on emissions testing of their diesel cars will result in about $24 million in projects in Alabama to reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality in the state.

The money will be Alabama’s share of a $2.9 billion settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government after the automaker was caught using software in its vehicles that allowed the cars to operate in a fuel-saving mode only while being tested. 

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management will be in charge of distributing the money through grants that will be available for public or private entities to reduce diesel emissions. 

Groups will be able to apply for grants to replace aging diesel engines in school buses, garbage trucks, freight trucks, ferries, airport equipment, forklifts or other cargo handling equipment and more.

ADEM Air Division Chief Ron Gore said projects to benefit local governments, schools or other public groups could receive full funding, while private sector projects would require matching funds. 

Gore said ADEM is still creating a system to evaluate proposed projects based on factors like getting the “biggest bang for the buck,” prioritizing urban areas where pollution is most concentrated, and how many people would benefit from each project. 

The department will finalize and submit a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, which will describe how the funds will be distributed to eligible projects. Gore said most of the projects will involve getting older diesel engines off the road. 

“There are about nine categories of projects that you can put money into,” Gore said. “I’d say probably six or seven of them directly involve replacing diesels with cleaner diesels or replacing diesels with electric power or compressed natural gas or propane or something like that.”

Gore said the older the diesel engines were, the more beneficial the replacements would be. 

“Beginning in 2007 with school buses and city buses, the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] regulations for diesel engines really tightened up, so any bus that’s newer than the 2007 model year is already pretty clean,” Gore said. “You wouldn’t want to be replacing those because the improvement in emissions wouldn’t be that great.”

Much like the restoration projects that came about after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, these projects will also have to be approved by a court-appointed trustee before the funding is distributed. 

Gore said the electrification of the Gee’s Bend Ferry, which the state recently announced would convert from diesel, would be one example of the type of project that would have been eligible for funding through this settlement, except it had already been paid for by a separate EPA grant. 

Only 15 percent of the state money can go toward electrification projects such as installing charging stations for electric vehicles, because Volkswagen also agreed to fund a $2 billion electrification venture that is separate from the money given to the states to build more charging stations and electric vehicle infrastructure across the country. 

The department is not yet soliciting project proposals, but is seeking public input on what types of projects should be prioritized.

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