State officials have released for public comment a plan to use money from a settlement with Volkswagen to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) in Tennessee.
The poisonous, highly reactive gas formed when fuel is burned at high temperatures was the pollutant at the center of the 2015 emissions scandal that rocked the automaker and led to billions of dollars in fines. The plan proposes using $45.7 million allocated to Tennessee to curtail nitrogen oxides from buses and trucks while investing in zero-emission vehicle supply equipment.
"These categories allow the state to target the two sectors that make up approximately 75 percent of Tennessee's mobile NOx emissions," according to the report.
Sixty percent of the money will go toward reducing emissions from school buses, shuttle buses or transit buses. The rest of the funds will be allocated to reducing emissions from Class 4-8 local freight trucks, port drayage trucks and light-duty zero-emission vehicle supply equipment. The reduced emissions will help the state remain in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ozone and Particulate Matter.
Volkswagen agreed to pay $10 billion to recall at least 85 percent of the affected vehicles, invest $2 billion in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and promotion, and establish a $2.9 billion environmental mitigation trust to mitigate the environmental effects of the excess nitrogen oxide emissions from the affected vehicles.
Mitigation trust funds are being doled to the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and federally recognized Indian tribes in the U.S. In Tennessee, the plan is being overseen by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The state agency led five public information sessions, which were held in Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and a webinar. The meetings provided an overview of the settlement and how the funded would be allocated.
"The proposed plan would reduce harmful air pollutants that negatively impact our environment, health and quality of life," said TDEC Commissioner Shari Meghreblian. "We look forward to receiving public feedback and ultimately supporting projects that protect clean air in our state."
While the plan refers to the funds as an initial allocation, it is uncertain whether there will be future allocations, according to TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski. Future allocations could occur if Volkswagen fails to meet its recall target rate or if a beneficiary requests a supplemental allocation on the 10-year anniversary of the Oct. 2, 2017, trust date.
Volkswagen Group of America declined to comment on the plan through a spokesman.
Public comment is open through Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. EST. Comments can be submitted via email to TDEC.OEP@tn.gov.
After public comment, the state agency will announce funding opportunities and project solicitations once the project is finalized. There will be additional workshops throughout the state to provide more information.