Missouri moving forward on plan for $41 million Volkswagen settlement

After months of discussion over how Missouri should spend $41 million from the state’s share of the Volkswagen emissions settlement, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is taking another step in the process Friday, with the first public meeting since the release of a draft plan for the spending.

In 2016 and 2017, the German automaker agreed to a series of settlements after it was discovered that Volkswagen had engineered vehicles that could pass emissions tests despite producing emissions during normal operation that exceeded standards established by the Clean Air Act. Volkswagen established an Environmental Mitigation Trust with $2.9 billion to fund projects to reduce excess emissions of oxides of nitrogen.

As one of the beneficiaries of that trust, Missouri will award more than $41 million to projects in eight categories, consisting mostly of vehicle replacement programs, according to its draft plan.

Kyra Moore, director of the Air Pollution Control Program for the Department of Natural Resources, discussed the plan and opportunities Thursday at the Advancing Renewables in the Midwest conference held at the University of Missouri.

“We went through a pretty extensive public process,” said Moore, who’s in charge of the drafting process. “We received about 200 comments written.”

Moore said the public can apply to receive funding for eligible projects. She expects the demand for funds from the eight categories to vary.

“We’re not sure if we’ll get enough eligible projects to fulfill (all categories),” Moore said.

To address this issue, Moore said, undistributed funding will be equally redistributed among three of the categories — school busses, government trucks and transit and shuttle busses.

“If we don’t have enough projects, for example, to spend that $2 million that is proposed for locomotive and marine, then that money will revert back up to the three categories,” she said.

Those three categories will have their maximum funding capped: school buses at $18 million, government trucks at $12 million, and transit and shuttle buses at $10 million.

After the draft plan was released in late March, stakeholders across the state expressed differing views on how their suggestions were addressed.

“I think the state does a really good job of putting together their draft plan,” said Kevin Herdler, the executive director of St. Louis Regional Clean Cities. “They did take a lot of the stuff that we recommended, which we’re very happy about.”

St. Louis Regional Clean Cities and the Metropolitan Energy Center in Kansas City released a white paper with recommendations for Missouri’s use of the trust in 2016. Both organizations advocate for alternative fuels, resource efficiency, environmental health and economic vitality.

Herdler highlighted the opportunities for locomotive and marine in the draft plan.

“The marine and the locomotive are one of the biggest emission matters,” Herdler said. “We have a lot of marine traffic up and down the Mississippi River and Missouri River, and then we’ve got all the rivers to come through the state. So being able to replace some of those, or re-power those, actually gives them a great opportunity to reduce some emissions.”

Kelly Gilbert from the Metropolitan Energy Center agreed with most of the draft plan, but she pointed out an issue with one of the guidelines.

“One policy decision I disagree with is the proposed practice of using 25 percent of EPA’s tailpipe emission standard instead of assuming zero emissions for all-electric trucks,” she said.

Gilbert said the the replacement of private and commercial fleets should be also included in the plan.

The Department of Natural Resources will continue accepting comments on the plan through May 4. Once the final plan is submitted this summer, the department will begin accepting project applications.

“I’m curious to see what other stakeholders throughout the state think about the plan,” Herdler said.

Missouri Business Alert’s sustainability coverage is funded in part by the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District.

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