Volkswagen settlement could boost electrified, natural gas vehicles in Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio News

Volkswagen settlement could boost electrified, natural gas vehicles in Minnesota

Some 9,300 Volkswagen diesels have been driving around the state over the years, spewing an extra six hundred tons of nitrogen oxides into the air.

That contributes to ground-level ozone, which can exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD.

• Related: VW pleads guilty in emissions scandal; six employees indicted

Now, Minnesota has a chance to eliminate six hundred tons of NOx through the federal government’s settlement with Volkswagen over its emissions scandal.

The state is set to receive almost $47 million to mitigate the pollution Volkswagen diesel vehicles wrongfully emitted.

Here’s what you need to know about the settlement:

How can the money be spent?

Most of the money must be spent on making diesel vehicles run cleaner or converting diesel vehicles to run on electric current, natural gas or propane, which would dramatically reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Mark Spanton, key accounts manager for CenterPoint Energy, displays the nozzle for a compressed natural gas fueling station in Minneapolis on Wednesday. Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News

States have to tell a federally appointed trustee how they intend to spend the money before the money starts flowing. That process could take many months. Besides mitigating pollution from diesel vehicles, fifteen percent of the sum can be spent on electrical vehicle infrastructure.

How much pollution can you prevent with $47 million?

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials are certain they will be able to go beyond the six hundred tons of nitrogen oxide required by the settlement. They’ll do that by asking businesses and local governments if they’d be willing to share the cost of converting diesel fleet vehicles to natural gas, propane or tens unit. It’s a complicated calculation.

It costs a lot of money for a brand-new electrical truck or bus. But if your company was planning to substitute its fleet soon anyway, this is a way to upgrade to something cleaner and tap some public money to make the switch.

Another part of the calculation is how much money could be saved over time on fuel and maintenance.

Electrified vehicles are said to be cheaper to maintain, for example. On the other palm, if a company is looking to substitute its entire fleet of diesel trucks for electrified ones, state officials would weigh the emissions per dollar saved compared to substituting a giant, dirty diesel engine like a locomotive or tugboat.

Besides getting the most emissions reductions for its dollars, what else is the state considering?

The settlement requires spending decisions to consider environmental justice factors.

For example, if one proposal called for substituting a fleet of diesel vehicles operating in the outer suburbs and a similar proposal called for substituting a fleet of vehicles operating in a low-income community of color in the urban core, the latter project would likely get the funding.

Air pollution has been shown to disproportionately affect certain communities, and health disparities can exacerbate those circumstances. For example, a ZIP code that includes a large part of north Minneapolis, a low-income community of color, has the highest asthma hospitalization rate in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

I own a VW diesel car. Can I get money from the state?

No. The state’s portion of the settlement is actually just a petite part of a giant sum negotiated by the federal government. The bulk of that is going to VW car owners to trade their cars in or get them stationary.

Could the Legislature get involved in the spending of the state’s VW settlement funds?

It could, but there are specific requirements on how the money can be spent, so lawmakers won’t be able to use it for the state budget, for example. MPCA officials are asking anyone with questions or comments about how the money will be distributed to contact them.

Will this settlement help Minnesota address greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate switch?

Not directly. Searing gasoline and diesel does release greenhouse gases, but the pollutants at the center of the VW settlement are nitrogen oxides (NOx). But some of the deeds supported by the settlement, such as converting diesel vehicles to electrical vehicles and adding electrified vehicle infrastructure could also help the state reduce greenhouse gases – as long as the electro-therapy being produced to run those vehicles is not carbon-intensive. Transportation emissions are the 2nd largest source of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a latest investigate shows the number of vehicle miles traveled in the state has gone up in latest years.

Editor’s note: The settlement permits companies and governments to substitute their diesel fleets with electrified only for larger vehicles like trucks and buses. A description in an earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.

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