MPCA plan brings a silver lining to VW emissions cloud

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) unveiled its spending plan for the $47 million Minnesota will receive from the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement, and it promises to make major positive strides in Minnesota’s clean transportation infrastructure. The money will be distributed throughout the state to help reduce emissions well beyond those emitted during the scandal, creating economic growth in the clean transportation sector and protecting Minnesota’s health.

The Volkswagen scandal was first revealed when the EPA became aware that many of the company’s diesel vehicles were emitting a much greater volume of nitrogen oxide pollution than expected or allowed. Scientists discovered that Volkswagen had used engine programming to allow their vehicles to cheat its laboratory emissions test – the tested vehicles appeared to have legal emissions, but on the road, they emitted as much 40 times more than the legal limit of nitrogen oxides.

These emissions contribute to global warming, acid rain, and diseases like bronchitis, heart disease, and asthma, causing chronic health conditions and premature death. In Minnesota alone, the extra emissions caused by the cheating system amounted to around 600 tons of nitrogen oxide compounds. Because of the harm caused, Volkswagen settled its lawsuits with state and federal agencies. The settlement organizers, led by Robert Mueller (yes, that Robert Mueller) determined that the compensation funds should be allocated to state air quality agencies to help cut down on harmful air pollution, rather than allow political maneuvering to divert the funds to unrelated projects.

The MPCA plans to accomplish its clean air goals with major positive steps. 30% of the funds will be dispersed around the state for vehicle electrification – half for electrical charging stations, and half for electrifying vehicles like state and city-owned buses, utility trucks, and construction equipment. The other 70% will go to upgrading heavy-duty land and water vehicles – many with outdated engines – to run more cleanly and cause less toxic pollution.

The MPCA’s plan is estimated to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than six times the extra emissions caused by the company’s violation. The agency plans to equitably target this money in grants and investments over ten years based on the areas hardest-hit by the emissions throughout Minnesota. And it estimates that in addition to the local health benefits, the plan will reduce greenhouse gases by as much as 34,000 tons. Minnesota’s transportation sector is narrowly outranked by electrical generation for highest greenhouse gas emissions in our state, so this change will be an enormous boost to meeting our need to combat climate change.

We are glad to see state, local, and federal agencies working together in the aftermath of a tragedy to help make Minnesota a clean and healthy place to live! 

More good news – on the pipeline front

On Thursday evening, the Minnesota Senate Energy and Utilities Committee voted on a bill that would bypass the Public Utilities Commission’s review process and approve construction of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, which would cross Minnesota’s most vulnerable lands and waters. We’re happy to report that the committee voted 5-4 against the bill after hearing substantial testimony against it from various speakers. The vote was a victory for the thorough and public pipeline review process conducted by the Public Utilities Commission and the thousands of Minnesotans who have spoken out on the pipeline.

However, this vote doesn’t mean the legislation is dead in the water. A companion bill passed in the House Jobs and Energy committee, and it seems likely that the legislation will be included in a later omnibus bill to be sent to Governor Dayton. It’s important that citizens continue to speak up against this harmful legislation when and wherever it next appears – and we thank the dedicated staff and volunteers who are leading this important effort.

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