Washington state aims to turn an environmental scandal into an opportunity to transform the transportation system and improve air quality under a new proposal released Thursday.
The plan would use $112.7 million the state is eligible to receive from a federal settlement with Volkswagen to reduce air pollution from diesel vehicles and increase access to electric vehicle infrastructure.
“This settlement represents an opportunity to begin building a transportation system for the next 100 years in our state,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “By investing in zero emission or near-zero emission vehicles, vessels, and infrastructure, we can dramatically reduce pollution, better protect the public, and slash carbon emissions in Washington.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California negotiated a $14.7 billion nationwide settlement with Volkswagen for violating the federal Clean Air Act after the automaker admitted installing illegal software on many of its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. As a result, these vehicles emitted up to 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxides — a harmful air pollutant linked to asthma attacks and increased deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
Approximately 24,000 of the affected vehicles were registered in Washington, making the state eligible for $112.7 million from the settlement. Gov. Inslee designated the Washington Department of Ecology as the agency to lead efforts to develop the state’s plan, ensure the plan meets the settlement requirements, and manage the funds.
Under the plan, the settlement funds could pay for projects that install electric vehicle charging stations, replace diesel engines in buses, public vehicles, and vessels with electric engines or cleaner diesel engines, or make other investments in reducing diesel emissions in Washington.
“By cheating emissions tests, Volkswagen exposed Washingtonians to more pollution and threatened their health,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Using this settlement to right those wrongs and protect our communities in the future is the best investment we can make.”
Over the past year, Washington residents were invited to give Ecology input on the vision for selecting projects that reduce emissions and identifying what investments were important to them. The agency also worked with the departments of Transportation, Commerce, Enterprise Services, the Office of Financial Management, the Attorney General’s Office, and Gov. Inslee’s policy advisors to develop the proposal. Next steps for the group of agencies working on the plan include designing the funding program and a process to select projects.
The public is invited to upcoming meetings to learn more about the settlement, how Washington can invest the money, and the proposed plan.