FL Seeks Feedback On Plan To Use $166M From VW Settlement To Reduce Emissions

Aug 14, 2019

The Department of Environmental Protection is looking for public feedback on its draft plan outlining how Florida will spend settlement funds from the Volkswagen emission scandal to reduce vehicle emissions statewide.

The state’s draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan fulfills the requirements outlined in the Volkswagen settlement’s Environmental Mitigation Trust for State Beneficiaries and details how Florida will spend the $166 million allotted to the state. 

Related: $15 Billion Settlement Proposed In Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

“Public input is an important part of our process,” said DEP Division of Air Resource Management Director Jeff Koerner. “The Department has made an effort to be transparent throughout the development of the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. We have previously held public meetings and webinars, and sought public input through requests for information, a public survey, and now by requesting feedback on the draft Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. Through this commitment to public outreach, we look forward to finalizing the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan and identifying projects which will benefit Florida’s air quality.”

The plan aims to provide funding for mobile source emissions mitigation projects in order to mitigate the excess emissions, specifically nitrogen oxide emissions, caused by VW vehicles operating without legally required emission controls.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrogen oxides play a major role in several environmental and human health issues, including climate change. The EPA says the transportation sector is the largest contributor to climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Categories of eligible mitigation actions for project-specific funding.
Credit DEP

Of the available $166 million, $116 million (70%) is currently planned to go towards making school, transit and shuttle buses run on electric or “clean” fuel,” $25 million (15%) will go towards electric vehicle charging infrastructure and another $25 million will be used to match the existing federally funded Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

Related: Gov. DeSantis Plans More Electric Charging Stations For Florida’s Highways

The DERA State Grant Program is funded in part through federal grants from the EPA and is designed to provide funding to reduce harmful emissions from diesel engines. The DEP sees the DERA Option under the Eligible Mitigation Actions as a useful way to get additional funding for the same goal. 

The plan will prioritize projects that replace eligible vehicles with electric-powered and/or alternative fueled vehicles, identify the areas in Florida where the largest number of people are impacted by higher levels of emissions from diesel-powered vehicles and equipment and identify mitigation projects that achieve the lowest cost per ton of pollutants reduced.

Susan Glickman with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy worries that last prioritization qualifier will leave the door open for part of the funds to be used on fossil fuel-powered transportation.

“Electric vehicles are clean. They are way more efficient than combustion vehicles, and save money with reduced maintenance and operating costs,” she wrote in The Invading Sea this week. “Fossil fuel buses may reduce pollution on a ‘cost per ton’ basis in the short term, but not over the lifetime of a bus.”

“DEP can best protect Florida citizens by turning VW’s pollution scandal into a plan that embraces clean energy solutions. Looking at costs over the lifetime of an investment is the place to start,” she went on to write. “The clock is ticking on irreversible climate damage."

Related: Florida’s VW Settlement Plan Draws Criticism From Environmentalists

While the DEP will look to prioritize overburdened areas where action would provide the largest environmental benefits to the most people, other areas will not be excluded from funding.

According to the National Emissions Inventory (NEI), a comprehensive estimate of air emissions, Florida’s total emissions of nitrogen oxide from all sources in 2014, both stationary and mobile, was 582,390 tons. The vast majority of those emissions, 416,565 tons or approximately 71% of statewide nitrogen oxide emissions, came from mobile sources.

Percentage distribution by sector for all nitrogen oxide emissions in Florida in 2014.
Credit DEP

In Florida about 33% of all nitrogen oxide emissions (194,638 tons) are from diesel-powered mobile sources. Of those emissions, sources break down into the following subcategories:

  • 100,709 tons from on-road diesel heavy-duty vehicles like tractor trailers.
  • 63,675 tons from non-road diesel equipment like heavy forklifts.
  • 16,786 tons from commercial marine vessels like cruise and container ships.
  • Percent distribution of diesel-powered mobile source emissions in Florida in 2014.
    Credit DEP

    7,448 tons from on-road diesel light-duty vehicles like personal cars.

  • 6,020 tons from diesel-powered locomotives.

The Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund provides funding to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from each of these categories, except personal cars, with a focus on older and higher emitting mobile sources.

Distribution by county for mobile source nitrogen oxide emissions in Florida in 2014.
Credit DEP

The DEP has identified five air quality priority areas using factors like total emissions, air quality, environmental justice indicators and population. The DEP will prioritize these areas for certain diesel emission mitigation projects because they will lead to the largest environmental benefits for the most people.

Within each of those areas, the DEP identified priority urban areas and nearby secondary urbanized areas. For example, in the Northeast Florida air quality priority area, which covers Clay, Duval and St. Johns Counties, Jacksonville has been identified as the primary urbanized area and St. Augustine as the secondary.

Air quality priority areas in Florida.
Credit DEP

The state expects that each eligible mitigation action will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions for the life of the units being replaced, improve air quality and reduce exposure to other pollutants from diesel combustion.

All public comments have to be submitted via email to VWMitigation@FloridaDEP.gov by 5 p.m. eastern on Friday, August 16, 2019.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.