By Jim Erkel, MCEA Attorney and Director, Land Use and Transportation
Volkwagen manufactured and installed a secret bit of code in the emission controls of the diesel engines in its VW and Audi-branded 2.0 and 3.0 Liter TDI models that only turned on the controls when emissions testing was being performed. As a result, about 600,000 of the TDI vehicles ran without emission controls and emitted pollution, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx), that exceeded legal limits by a factor of at least 30 times.
When VW's cheating was revealed, the State of California and the United States brought civil enforcement cases against VW for clean air violations. Through consent decrees, VW agreed to settle the claims through a series of payments totaling $14.9 billion. Of the total, $2 billion is being directed to states for the installation of zero emission vehicle charging stations and $2.9 billion to states for actions that will mitigate for the diesel pollution that has been or will be emitted by the TDI vehicles already on the road.
Minnesota will be eligible for about $47 million of the $2.9 billion for mitigation. The monies are subject to a mitigation trust agreement which states that actions should be directed at reducing NOx emissions, should be located where the TDI vehicles emitted NOx at rates of more than 30 times the legal limits and should take into consideration how mitigations will impact "benefit communities that have historically borne a disproportionate share of the adverse impacts of such emissions."
There has been a push to spread the monies like peanut butter so that all portions of Minnesota will get a taste. To fulfill the intent of the trust agreement, MCEA has argued in comments on a draft mitigation plan issued by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that the monies must be directed to the areas where the TDI vehicles are or will be located and must be prioritized to actions that will benefit communities of color and low-wealth neighborhoods that have disproportionately bored the public health burden of vehicle-related air pollution.
The comment period for MPCA's draft mitigation plan has ended. MCEA will be interested to see if MPCA will modify the plan to reflect the commitment of the Dayton Administration to eliminating Minnesota's racial disparities in education, employment, housing, and public health and its own acknowledgement of racial disparities in environmental protection and its specific commitment to integrate environmental justice principles into all of its work.