State to Spend Volkswagen Money on Reducing Emissions

Fund, which stems from auto manufacturer’s settlement for cheating on emissions testing, will focus on urban areas, promote electric vehicles

diesel exhaust
The state plans to use $72 million from a settlement with Volkswagen to reduce smog-forming pollution from vehicles by electrifying parts of the transportation sector.

In a draft plan prepared by the state Department of Environmental Protection, funds would be targeted to curbing diesel emissions from heavy-duty vehicles, buses, and non-road equipment, particularly in environmental justice communities.

The plan, while short on specifics, will be modified based on input from public outreach meetings, according to officials.

Clean-energy advocates and environmental groups have been eagerly awaiting decisions on how the state will disburse the money. The state obtained $72.2 million as the result of a consent decree reached by the federal government, California and Volkswagen, stemming from the auto manufacturer’s cheating on emissions testing.

As allowed under the settlement and expected, the DEP will use 15 percent of the funds to build electric-vehicle charging infrastructure for light-duty zero emission vehicles.

NJ in violation of national standard

Click to expand/collapse
“Our goal is to use New Jersey’s share of the national Volkswagen settlement to develop programs that are consistent with Gov. Murphy’s commitment to reduce smog as well as greenhouse gas emissions, advance environmental justice goals in urban areas and expand the use of electric vehicles,’’ said Catherine McCabe, DEP commissioner.

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the biggest contributor to pollution causing ground-level ozone, or smog.

New Jersey never has achieved the federal health quality for ozone. So far this year, the state has violated the national standard on 21 days, according to DEP records.

Across New Jersey, communities, businesses and others sought to get a share of the $72 million. The DEP received 121 proposals seeking more than $411 million in funding for various projects to electrify vehicles, install charging stations or other equipment, according to the draft report.

With so much anticipation, some were unhappy the report had few specific details on where the money will be spent — or how quickly.

Other states already spending the money

“Other states already are starting to spend the money and we’re just starting the planning process,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

But Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the NJ Clean Cities Coalition, said overall the plan is “pretty good,’’ while noting it does not contain many specifics.

The draft plan aims to reduce emissions from freight trucks, school and transit buses, tug boats, cargo-handling equipment and government vehicles, among others.

By targeting those sources, it will help reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key pollutant in the formation of smog. By doing so, it also helps curb greenhouse gas emissions, too, Feinberg noted.

It also calls for the installation of publicly accessible electric-vehicle charging stations at government-owned property, as well as charging stations for the use of employees at their workplaces and residents of multi-dwelling units.

Limited allocation for EV infrastructure

charging station
The allocation for electric-fueling infrastructure is limited by rules allowing only 15 percent of funding for that purpose, according to Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition promoting use of zero-emission vehicles.

Her organization is pushing the state to adopt incentives to get 300,000 electric vehicles on New Jersey’s roads by 2030. While this infusion of funding is not enough to build out a statewide public-charging network, the coalition believes that gap could be filled by the state’s electric utilities, Frank said.

Both Public Service Electric & Gas and Atlantic City Electric have asked state regulators for approval to build charging stations as part of rate cases filed with the Board of Public Utilities.

New Jersey, by most accounts, is lagging behind other states in building the charging infrastructure needed to reduce range anxiety among consumers — the fear they will run out of power before finding a station to recharge a vehicle.

Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee is expected to take up a comprehensive bill to promote the use of electric vehicles at its meeting on Monday in Trenton.

New Jersey also received another $69 million from a separate settlement with Volkswagen, but the Murphy administration opted to divert those funds to plug a hole in the current state budget.

The first of three public meetings on the DEP’s draft plan is scheduled for October 17, from 2-4 p.m. at DEP headquarters, 301 East State St., Trenton.