How will N.J. use millions from Volkswagen settlements? – NorthJersey.com
As New Jersey waits to receive up to $72 million related to deals Volkswagen reached in the past year to settle consumer lawsuits and government allegations that it cheated on emissions tests, state lawmakers are starting to lay out priorities for how the money should be spent.
The Senate environment committee on Monday advanced a bill, S-3029, that would direct 15 percent of the money, or about $11 million, to upgrading the infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles or light-duty trucks.
The rest of the money would go toward reducing diesel emissions at the ports in Elizabeth, Newark or other locations in southern New Jersey and “other programs to reduce air pollution from motor vehicle emissions,” such as converting NJ Transit buses to electric models. No more than 5 percent of the settlement money can be spent on administrative costs, according to the bill.
“Buses, our ports and electrification of the auto fleet are great things to be done,” said David Pringle, director of Clean Water Action. “We want to make sure that the money isn’t misspent in terms of generic education. We want to have real air quality reductions and benefits.”
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Buses, ports and construction equipment are the top three sources of diesel pollution in the state, he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said the bill intentionally lacks specifics beyond broad categories for spending. Given that the settlement money won’t reach New Jersey for at least six months, he said, the next governor and commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection should have a say on what programs to support.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, objected that the bill already focuses too much on New Jersey’s ports.
“All the stuff in the ports, the Port Authority can mandate it,” he said. “We don’t need to give private companies subsidies. What we need to be doing is putting electric buses in our cities instead of the dirty buses that NJ Transit keeps buying.”
A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said Monday that New Jersey could receive up to $72.2 million from two settlements with Volkswagen, one for $65.3 million and another for $6.9 million.
The larger portion is New Jersey’s share of the multibillion-dollar deal Volkswagen reached in June after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that Volkswagen had installed “defeat devices” in diesel-fueled cars that would cut harmful emissions whenever they were being tested.
When running normally, however, the vehicles would emit up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma.
Up to $10 billion of the settlement will go to 475,000 VW or Audi diesel owners, who thought they were buying high-performance, environmentally friendly cars but later learned the vehicles’ emissions vastly exceeded U.S. pollution restrictions. VW agreed to either buy back or repair the vehicles, and owners were due to receive payments of $5,100 to $10,000.
The settlement also included $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and $2 billion to promote zero-emission vehicles.
This story contains material from The Associated Press. Email: email@example.com