State announces plans for first round of Volkswagen settlement funds

The Department of Environmental Protection Thursday announced the first projects that will be funded with money from the federal Volkswagen settlement. The state will ask the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust to approve the allocation of $11.2 million of New Jersey’s $72.2 million share of the settlement to be spent on hundreds of electric-vehicle charging outlets across the state and new electric NJ Transit buses for the City of Camden.

“We are committed to growing charging infrastructure across New Jersey and making it easier for the public to help us improve air quality by using zero-emission vehicles,” DEP commissioner Catherine McCabe said. “The new buses in Camden will be beneficial in helping to reduce harmful emissions that contribute to smog. Better air quality means better health for our communities and residents.”

The DEP will use $3.2 million to award grants for approximately 827 charging outlets at 533 charging stations, raising the total number of non-residential charging outlets in the state to 1,613. Gov. Phil Murphy had previously committed to using 15 percent of the Volkswagen money, or $10.8 million, for these EV charging stations.

The remaining $8 million would be allocated to purchase eight new electric NJ Transit buses that will operate in Camden.

“We are pleased that this funding will help us pilot an electric bus program here in New Jersey to study in real-world scenarios the benefits and challenges of utilizing this alternate energy source,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal began in 2015 when the EPA issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to the German automaker after they found that the company had intentionally defrauded emissions testing. They then pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2017 and a judge ordered them to pay a $2.8 billion fine, that would then be distributed among all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and federally recognized tribes to implement actions to counter the air quality impacts of excess nitrogen oxide emissions resulting from the emissions defeat devices.

New Jersey’s share was a combined $72 million, determined by the number of rigged cars registered in the state.

In addition to the electric buses and this round of electric-vehicle charging outlets, the DEP is evaluating more than $400 million worth of other project applications and expects to announce additional awards before the summer.