Karen Glitman, VEIC Director of Policy and Public Affairs -
The Volkswagen (VW) Consent Decree recently approved by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the energy source we use to move people and goods, via electrification of the public transportation sector. But steps toward this outcome are not guaranteed by the Decree – individual states and jurisdictions must consciously decide to use the funds to promote electrification and reap its manifold, forward-looking benefits.
VW's emissions violations added thousands of tons of pollution into our air and into the lungs of all living creatures. The pollutants from diesel exhaust are known carcinogens, increase asthma rates and have numerous other health impacts ranging from neurological to cardiovascular. Those living closest to highways, ports, airports and other transportation infrastructure have borne the greatest impact and they are often the most disadvantaged members of our communities. Eliminating pollutants from diesel emissions by converting to electric vehicles will benefit the millions who breathe the most polluted air and suffer the greatest health and economic hardship from it.
Of the total $14.7 billion VW settlement, an unprecedented $2.7 billion is available to 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for environmental mitigation programs intended to offset pollution caused by the VW scandal. Each jurisdiction will develop a plan for the expenditure of these funds tied to the 10 eligible measures outlined in the Consent Decree. If leveraged strategically, this could be the catalyst we need to achieve our energy and climate goals under the Paris Agreement in addition to targets at state and local levels throughout our country.
States are receiving the funding to help make their visions a reality, and the Decree offers choices in technology deployed. Unfortunately, these include so-called "cleaner" diesel options. Already, past emissions have set an unavoidable course of warming over the next two decades. It will be a travesty if the funds are used to continue the use of fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, electric transit vehicles are an untapped solution that is available today, though in woefully small numbers despite readiness for larger scale deployment. The most recent statistics on transit vehicles (2014) from the American Public Transit Association (APTA) show that just 0.1% of the 66,000 buses in the US transit fleet are all-electric.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) received 101 applications for their 2016 Low or No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program (LoNo) with a total funding request of $446 million, but FTA had only $55 million in funds to distribute. The demand for electric transit buses is evident. If all of the funds from the Consent Decree were devoted to deploying electric transport solutions, it would be a significant push towards the critical mass and infrastructure necessary to transform the sector.
Another untapped solution is electric school buses. If school districts were to get all-electric vehicles and charging equipment covered at 100 percent, the 24 million children in this nation who ride diesel-powered school buses to and from school could be among the biggest winners. Far reaching benefits include no emitted greenhouse gases and no children exposed directly to diesel tailpipe exhaust, plus higher energy efficiency, lower operating costs and quieter operations. VEIC is working with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources on a project to deploy and analyze the performance of electric school buses in four school districts in the state. We expect the results will demonstrate the viability of electric school buses.
From buses to ferries to forklifts – all with commercially-available electric options right now – there are many vehicle choices to select from as states consider how to deploy these funds. There is no excuse for using these funds for any purpose other than rapidly accelerating toward electric transportation.
We cannot walk away from this opportunity.
The easy solution would be to purchase "cleaner" diesel vehicles. But we need transformation, not "less bad." We cannot continue to bring linear solutions and minor improvements to the exponential problem of global climate change.
Get involved with your state's environmental mitigation plan and work to ensure that the funds from this Consent Decree are properly dedicated to accelerate the adoption of plug in electric vehicles, and not "cleaner" diesel.
Learn more about VEIC's work to advance electric transportation.