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BOSTON, MA – More than two years ago, Volkswagen was caught systematically cheating Clean Air Act protections across the country, allowing diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times more smog forming pollution than legally allowed, putting the public health and the environment at risk. As part of a historic settlement with the federal government, Massachusetts is receiving $75 million from VW to spend on environmental mitigation actions.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is now accepting public input on how to spend the money. As part of a series of public stakeholders meetings, MassDEP held a meeting in Boston on February 15. At the meeting, MASSPIRG called on MassDEP to use the funds to put a downpayment on an electrified transportation system.

“The settlement money provides us with a rare opportunity to accelerate an all electric transportation revolution,” said Matt Casale, MASSPIRG staff attorney.

The transportation sector is the largest emitter of global warming pollutants in the US, making up 40 percent of CO2 emissions in Massachusetts alone. “These pollutants pose a serious risk to the health of our environment and communities,” said Casale. “If we are not taking action to clean up our transportation system and reduce our reliance on fossil-fuels, we are literally putting people’s lives at stake.”

According to the settlement, the money can be used for a variety of projects, including installing electric vehicle charging stations and updating state owned fleets, like public buses. “While the settlement is designed to reduce harmful emissions, loopholes exist that could allow this money to fund dirty diesel vehicles,” added Casale. “Those loopholes will increase the pollutants that trigger asthma and other respiratory ailments and emit more global warming pollution. MassDEP should begin its plan by committing to use the VW money solely on electrifying the transportation system.”

Up to 15 percent of the funds can be spent on the purchase and installation of electric vehicle charging stations. If Massachusetts dedicates the full fifteen percent, Massachusetts could provide between 112 and 224 additional fast charging stations. This would be a significant improvement to the state’s current network of about 46 fast charging stations.

With the remaining 85 percent, MASSPIRG urges MassDEP to purchase brand new all-electric buses to replace outdated, dirty diesel buses currently on the road. “Each year hundreds of thousands of people rely on public buses to get to school, work, and for recreation,” Casale said. “And nearly all transit buses in the United States run on fossil fuels that contribute significantly to air pollution. For people who live along bus routes, this can mean dozens of exposures to toxic fumes each day.”

While natural gas and diesel buses produce over 120,000 kilos of GHG emissions annually, all-electric buses produce no tailpipe emissions. “The lack of tailpipe emissions from electric buses helps improve air quality on roads and near bus transit passengers, allowing people to breathe cleaner air on their daily commutes and other travels,” added Casale.

With 85 percent, Massachusetts could purchase about 79 electric buses to replace existing diesel buses. 133,510 tons of CO2 and 12,482 kilos of diesel particulate matter from the air over 12 years.  In terms of CO2 reductions, this is equivalent to removing about 2,370 cars from the road for 12 years. “And if that’s not enough,” said Casale, “because of the decreased maintenance and fuel costs of electric buses, this would save transit authorities across the state about $13.2 million over 12 years of use.” These savings would allow agencies to invest in more electric buses over time.

“We can’t afford to lose this opportunity to jump start a fossil-fuel free transportation system,” Casale said.

Further meetings will be held in Worcester and Holyoke. The schedule can be viewed here.

The public can contact MassDEP and provide comments here.