DEP Wants Public Input on Spending NJ’s Share of VW Settlement

New Jersey is in line to get $72.2 million to help clean up air pollution in the transportation sector

Due to inaccurate information provided by the DEP, this story includes an error. The Christie administration has not designated the department as the lead agency for overseeing allocation of the Volkswagen money.

The state is looking for public input on how to spend $72.2 million to clean up air pollution from the transportation sector.

On Monday, a settlement with Volkswagen stemming from its admission it installed software to cheat on emissions from millions of diesel-fueled vehicles was finalized in Washington, D.C., making $2.7 billion available to states to reduce air pollution.

In New Jersey, the Christie administration has designated the state Department of Environmental Protection as the lead agency to supervise how the settlement money will be spent, according to Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the agency.

Curbing pollution

No decisions have been made yet, but the settlement with the auto manufacturer spells out in broad terms that the money should be spent on curbing pollution from the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey.

The Legislature already has some ideas. In June, the Senate passed a bill (S-3029) laying out a framework for allocating the funds, with at least 15 percent of the money going to help build charging stations for electric vehicles. The legislation still needs approval from the Assembly.

For the most part, both lawmakers and environmentalists back using the money to ramp up the state’s efforts to electrify its light-duty vehicle fleet. New Jersey is lagging behind neighboring states in installing charging stations where owners of electric cars can repower their vehicles, according to some clean-energy advocates.

That is a priority for the Sierra Club. “Investing in efforts to expedite the switch to clean electric vehicles, including charging infrastructure and zero-emission buses, will truly provide relief to those communities most adversely affected by the high levels of air pollution that VW vehicles — and conventional vehicles generally — have caused,’’ said Gina Coplon-Newfield, clean transportation advocate for the club.

Other environmentalists have sought to target funds to reduce diesel emissions in urban areas, as well as at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

December deadline

Under the settlement, states must identify a lead agency to oversee distribution of the funds no later than December 1. Given that timing, it is likely it is going to be up to the new governor to decide where the money goes, according to Chuck Feinberg, president of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit advocating for alternative-fueled vehicles.

Volkswagen admitted to installing the software to cheat on the emissions tests in September 2015 as part of an overall settlement of up to $14.7 billion, most of which will go to vehicle buybacks and modification for affected consumers. Of that, $2.7 billion was set aside for states to reduce pollution from the transportation sector.

For those interested in proposing projects where the funds should be allocated, the DEP has set up a new webpage seeking input.

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