Florida to use VW Dieselgate funds to install charging stations, and to buy more diesels

Florida to use VW Dieselgate funds to install charging stations, and to buy more diesels

August 10, 2019 0 By vishnu

The good news: Florida plans to invest $25 million from Volkswagen’s Dirty Diesel settlement in a network of highway charging stations. The (potentially) bad news: the state could choose to spend the rest of the settlement funds to replace existing diesel engines with newer, slightly cleaner, diesel engines.

As part of Volkswagen’s punishment for getting caught cheating on emissions tests, it has made $3 billion in grants available for individual US states. The money is theoretically supposed to be used to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution from diesel engines, but state governments have broad discretion as to how to spend it. So far, several states have decided to use the funds to buy more fossil fuel vehicles.

Florida is the last state to announce its plans for the
settlement funds. Will it follow the lead of Arizona, Ohio, Illinois and
Wisconsin, and double down on diesel? Or will it takes its cue from New Jersey
and Virginia, both of which have invested VW funds in electrification projects?
The answer is not yet clear, but the state Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP) will be taking public comments on the issue until August 16 at 5 pm. Comments
must be submitted via email to VWMitigation@FloridaDEP.gov.

First, let’s be positive and give credit where it’s due:
Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced
that the state would invest $25 million
(15% of the state’s $166-million
share of the settlement, the largest allowable amount) to install charging
stations at all Florida Turnpike service plazas, and along other major
highways. The state plans to bid out the installation projects to private
firms, and the stations are to be available or under construction by the end of
the year. It’s not clear whether these will be high-speed DC chargers or Level
2 chargers.

“As electric cars become more prevalent on our roads and
highways, the development of these charging stations is essential to the
success of our ever-evolving transportation system,” said Governor DeSantis. “The
addition of these stations will encourage Floridians to buy more electric
vehicles, improve air quality, assist during disaster evacuations and ensure
that Florida is prepared as electric vehicle technology continues to advance.”

So far, so good. However, there’s another 141 big ones to
invest, and the state has not announced a final decision on how the funds will
be used. The DEP has published
a draft Beneficiary
Mitigation Plan
for public comment. It’s a wordy document, but contains no
details of specific projects.

The plan envisions spending 15% of the funds on the Diesel
Emissions Reduction Act (DERA), a federal program that was enacted in 2005 and
is described as “a voluntary means to reduce diesel emissions from existing
diesel engines that were not manufactured to meet more stringent post-2006
emission standards.” This may be anathema to EVangelists, but in some cases,
replacing older diesels may be a cost-effective way to reduce emissions. As John
Voelcker pointed out
, currently there are few or no readily available
electric options for some specialized vehicles such as garbage trucks and
emergency vehicles.

The DEP’s plan estimates that 70% of the remaining funds
will be allocated to “School, Transit and Shuttle Buses,” and speaks of “prioritizing
projects that replace eligible units with electric-powered and/or alternative
fueled units.” Of course, the term “alternative fueled units” is usually
understood to include natural gas, propane, hydrogen and other
combustion-engine vehicles, so Florida could end up spending a substantial part
of this money on fuel burners. Furthermore, the state “has the discretion to
adjust priorities and objectives as necessary and reserves the right to adjust
this goal and spending plans at the state’s discretion.” So it’s conceivable (although, to be fair,
probably not likely) that 85% of the VW money could be spent on new diesel
vehicles.

It’s safe to assume that the lobbyists for diesel bus
suppliers have been involved in the decision-making process from the beginning
(although we must also point out that some of these firms are now building
electric models as well).

As Proterra CEO Ryan Popple recently
pointed out
, “Diesel bus companies don’t really sell anything –
procurements are on autopilot. Years ago, they put in place a contract and
built a customer relationship. Fossil fuel maintains its market share by people
not paying attention.”

Comments must be submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at VWMitigation@FloridaDEP.gov by August 16.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to make the relative amounts to be invested in different areas clearer, and to add Mr. Voelcker’s comments about specialized vehicles.

Sources: Creative Loafing, Florida Governor’s Office, Florida DEP