Senate Starts to Sketch Out How to Use $64.3M Volkswagen Settlement

High on list, reducing pollution in transportation sector with zero-emission vehicles, cutting back dirty diesel emissions at ports

VW 2015
The Senate is beginning to move forward on legislation that would let New Jersey tap into $64.3 million to reduce pollution from the transportation sector, the largest source of emissions contributing to air-quality problems.

The bill (S-3029) is required if the state is to get its share of funds from a $1.2 billion court settlement with Volkswagen stemming from the auto manufacturer’s admission it installed software to cheat on emissions tests on millions of vehicles.

Environmentalists and lawmakers are hoping the funds will accelerate efforts to begin building the infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles and addressing pollution from diesel trucks and other dirty sources at the state’s ports.

Just what kind of programs will be financed by the settlement is likely to change in the coming months as lawmakers, the Christie administration, and potentially the next governor weigh in on where the money should be spent.

“This is not something that is going to happen in the next six months,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, which approved the bill on Monday.

In advancing the measure, the committee already has revamped the bill. Instead of authorizing funds to be used to promote just electric vehicles, it broadened the language to include all zero-emission vehicles, a change that will allow money to be used on cars fueled by hydrogen fuel cells.

At least 15 percent of the settlement monies will be used to pay for installation of infrastructure for zero emission vehicles, a provision that is in line with the settlement between Volkswagen and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill also was amended to allow money to be allocated to reduce diesel emissions at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as at other ports in southern New Jersey. Funds could be used to acquire maritime emissions-control equipment to reduce diesel pollution at the ports, a problem local residents and environmentalists have long sought to have addressed.

The Christie administration has yet to say where it would like to see the settlement money spent. At a budget hearing earlier this week, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said his agency has been discussing a possible framework for using the settlement money with the attorney general’s office, but has reached no consensus.

Sarah Bluhm, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said it is good the state is addressing the pollution problems from the transportation sector, noting that it is the biggest segment affecting air quality in the state.