VW Settlement Plan • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

VW Settlement Plan

Mitigation fund will strengthen Indiana legacy

Have you ever considered what your legacy might be?

I have the privilege of serving as executive director of South Shore Clean Cities, a nonprofit, member-based coalition founded in 1999 and dedicated to promoting sustainable transportation and clean energy options in Indiana. South Shore Clean Cities is one of nearly 100 U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities coalitions. The coalitions partner with members in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to increase the use and implementation of sustainable transportation and its infrastructure. Our programs strengthen the nation’s energy security, reduce dependence on imported oil, improve air quality, and support local jobs and the local economy.

Our work is all about legacy, with a focus on long-term, cumulative, collaborative solutions aimed at creating a legacy of a better tomorrow.

The $2.9 billion national Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund is a hot topic in the sustainable transportation sector and beyond. The national fund was established following a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the automaker for its violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act after Volkswagen admitted to rigging emission control equipment on its diesel vehicles to only operate during emission testing.

While there are many complex components to the settlement, at its core it requires eligible projects to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel-powered vehicles and equipment by replacing or repowering them with cleaner alternatives serving the same purpose. The goal is to get dirty diesel vehicles and equipment out of service and replace them with cleaner options.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb in October 2017 signed an executive order outlining next steps for Indiana’s $41 million portion of the funds. We are thrilled he saw fit to designate the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to administer the program.

We also applaud the state’s decision to accept public comments on the draft framework for the plan, something not all states have opted to do. IDEM has said it anticipates including all eligible categories (which detail specific vehicle classes, types and sectors) in the program, but wanted to hear from the public on how the funds should be allocated between them.

We were pleased to participate in the public meetings conducted by IDEM and to provide public comment before the March deadline. We told IDEM we would like to see Northern Indiana given preference in the program, especially areas that contribute a disproportionate amount of air pollution. Because our coalition is fuel-neutral, meaning we do not advocate one type of sustainable fuel choice or technology over another, we believe projects should be judged on their potential to reduce the greatest amount of NOx emissions. In order to maximize the funding, we also recommend cost-share requirements be maximized for all projects.

Unfortunately, the promise of $2.9 billion across the country is attracting more than those hoping to green their fleets. It’s also attracting those hoping to green their wallets.

We began seeing companies, in Indiana and across the county, as early as last spring starting to market themselves as sustainable transportation experts and grant writers, most of which have never been involved in the industry.

Since our inception, South Shore Clean Cities has helped our members save the equivalent of 75 million gallons of gasoline. That’s the equivalent of removing nearly 143,000 passenger vehicles from the road for one year. We’ve also helped our members acquire tens of millions of dollars in grant funds to help achieve those goals from a variety of public, private and nonprofit sources, including IDEM’s DieselWise program, which closely mirrors the Mitigation Trust parameters.

That is only a portion of the legacy I hope to leave behind. I firmly believe with strong partnerships and collaborative decision-making; Indiana’s legacy will be strengthened by the VW Mitigation Fund. We will be more sustainable, have cleaner air, healthier Hoosiers, increased energy security, a stronger economy and more local jobs as a result.

Click to read more from the Apr-May 2018 issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.

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