VW Emissions Settlement Could Be Windfall for NJ Push for Cleaner Air

The $65.3 million could go to reducing diesel emissions at the ports of Elizabeth and Newark, as well as deploying electric-vehicle charging stations

VW 2015
The state is beginning to map out how it will spend the $65.3 million it is entitled to stemming from a settlement involving Volkswagen’s cheating on diesel emissions tests on millions of vehicles.

If legislation now pending is passed, money from the $1.2 billion settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be used to reduce diesel emissions at the ports of Elizabeth and Newark, as well as fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations across the state.

The bill (S-3029), sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), is one of a dozen clean energy initiatives scheduled to be considered by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Monday.

The Volkswagen funds could provide an important impetus to begin addressing long-recognized air pollution problems plaguing New Jersey, but too often neglected by officials, according to environmental groups.

The Volkswagen scandal revolves around the company equipping vehicles, including a half-million in the U.S., with software to cheat on diesel emission tests. The company has faced both criminal and civil complaints related to the issue.

For New Jersey, it offers an opportunity to deal with problems posed by diesel emissions from trucks around the ports, a long-standing issue with residents in Newark and Elizabeth, where hundreds of vehicles traverse local streets each day, spewing particulates and other unhealthy pollutants.

“Diesel emissions are one of one of the nastiest sources of air pollution out there,’’ said David Pringle, campaign director for Clean Water Action. “It’s also a source of particulate pollution and clearly linked to the skyrocketing rates of asthma that we see.’’

In the past, efforts to clean up those emissions have failed to achieve ambitious targets, leaving many frustrated by the lack of action.

Under Smith’s bill, an undetermined portion of the New Jersey settlement would be used to fund various programs to curb diesel emissions, including incentives to replace older-model diesel trucks delivering and picking up containers at the ports. Money also would be available to acquire advance marine-emissions control-pollution control equipment at the port and to invest in electric or other zero-emission vehicles.

The legislation also would make other funds available to develop and build electric infrastructure for the deployment of private and public charging stations. Environmentalists often criticize state efforts to encourage greater use of zero-emission vehicles, citing the lack of public charging stations for electric cars.

By most estimates, there are fewer than 500 electric charging stations in New Jersey, far too few to discount range anxiety among drivers who may want to purchase the vehicles. Besides contributing to smog pollution, the transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state.

Under the settlement, every state has to come up with a plan to spend its allocation, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need a bill to spell out where the money will be going,’’ he said. “New Jersey has not put together a plan yet to make plug-in stations a reality.’’