NC, Asheville air quality to get a boost from Volkswagen scandal settlement

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NC, Asheville air quality to get a boost from Volkswagen scandal settlement

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A $15B settlement has been reached after Volkswagen admitted to rigging 11 million vehicles worldwide with software to dodge emissions standards.

ASHEVILLE – A wave of new electric car charging stations could soon be sweeping the mountains, along with, cleaner-running school buses, city buses and garbage trucks and overall sweeter-smelling air in the wake of a national, multibillion-dollar air quality violation settlement with Volkswagen.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will hold public meetings on the just-released Draft State Mitigation Plan. The plan outlines proposals for investing the first phase of North Carolina’s $92 million share of a national settlement with Volkswagen in projects aimed at reducing pollution impacts from diesel emissions.

The first of five meetings across the state is Monday in Asheville at the Land of Sky Regional Council.

In 2016, the German automaker was found to have manipulated the diesel emission controls on its 2- and 3-liter engines to make them appear to be in compliance with nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission standards, when they in fact were not, a violation of the Clean Air Act, said Brian Phillips, N.C. DEQ mobile sources compliance supervisor.

In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen accepted a $14.9 billion penalty.

Settlement funds were distributed among every state, based on the number of 2- and 3-liter diesel engine vehicles on their roads. Phillips said North Carolina ranks ninth highest in the country, with some 19,000 Volkswagens registered in the state.

The bulk of the settlement funds — $10 billion — is being used to buy back or modify vehicles found to have had rigged emissions devices. A $2 billion chunk will go to investment in zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure, that is, electric charging stations, and $2.9 billion will go to fund environmental mitigation projects.

Of this last batch of funds, North Carolina will receive $92 million for projects aimed at lowering emissions NOx, the main component in ground level ozone, which in high levels is a health hazard, and also contribute to greenhouse gases, the driving force behind climate change, said Bill Eaker, Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition coordinator.

“This is a huge infusion of money and it’s a wonderful opportunity for fleets to go to cleaner burning alternatives,” Eaker said. “By converting older diesel and buses and truck made pre-2010 — the dirty diesels — and replacing them with electric, hybrid or natural gas engines, it will reduce NOx emissions, which lead to ground level ozone and greenhouse pollution and particulates in the air.”

In a $14.9 billion settlement with the EPA, Volkswagen is must pay for buy back of vehicles found to have had rigged emissions devices, invest in zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure, and pay for environmental mitigation projects.

“The other way the money can be used for is electric vehicle charging stations. The state can put up to 15 percent (of the settlement money) into charging stations, and that’s the proposed plan.”

Electric car charging is in hot demand, Eaker said. In the greater Asheville area, there are 90 charging stations including private and public access, with 208 charging cords.

“Eight years ago we had none,” Eaker said.

In Phase I of the plan, the DEQ proposes to invest 30 percent of the overall funds ($30.68 million) between 2018-20 through five programs, targeting the money as follows:

School bus replacement program: 35 percentTransit bus replacement program: 20 percentClean heavy-duty on-road equipment program: 10 percentClean heavy-duty off-road equipment program: 15 percentZero Emission Vehicle infrastructure: 15 percent

Phillips said the Monday night meeting is open to everyone. He will deliver an overview of the Volkswagen settlement and the draft mitigation plan and take questions.

In November, DEQ sought public input on the plan, resulting in 872 comments, most addressing alternative fuels, electrification infrastructure and electric vehicles, eligible equipment, and environmental justice and health impacts.

The agency will take comment on the draft plan through May 3. The final plan will be submitted to the trustee this summer, with a request for proposals to follow in the fall.

“I think it will have a significant impact in the state,” Phillips said. “North Carolina is in compliance for NOx emissions, but any reductions in NOx emissions is always a good thing.”

The public hearing falls on the same day the Land of Sky holds its annual State of Our Air Briefing, the launch of daily air quality forecasts for ozone in seven metro areas across the state, including Asheville.

If you go

The NC DEQ stakeholder information session will be 7-9 p.m. Monday, at Land-of-Sky Regional Council, 339 New Leicester Highway., Suite 140, Asheville.

For more information about the Volkswagen Settlement, visit the DEQ website at https://tinyurl.com/y7gxovoy.

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