Volkswagen has agreed to hand over a pot of money to atone for its dastardly diesel deeds. One part of that pot – almost $3 billion – will be divided among US states, for them to spend as they choose, presumably on projects that will reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
Florida’s share of the penalty proceeds is $166.3 million, and a wide range of interests are already hustling to compete for the cash. “$166 million sounds like a lot until you realize that you could spend it all very quickly on one of the eligible actions,” said Preston McLane, the DEP’s Deputy Director for Air Resources. “When you slice the pie, it’s easy to eat it up.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is seeking public comment through May 11 on how to spend the windfall. Florida residents can make their opinions known by taking a short online survey.
Some local governments and businesses are seeking funds for projects that would clearly reduce emissions. The city of Orlando hopes to receive $15 to $20 million to convert its free downtown bus system, Lymmo, into an electric fleet, and to install 150 EV charging stations. However, the list of those lobbying for a slice of the pie also includes hydrogen fuel cell boosters and makers of “clean diesel” engines.
The FDEP held five public meetings around the state in March to explain to interested parties how the state will prepare to allocate the funds, a process that will take some time.
At the Orlando meeting, FDEP staff were non-committal about what kind of projects might eventually win funding. “I’m not here shilling for any particular kind of project,” McLane said. However, Sierra Club representative Phil Compton got the uncomfortable impression that staff members were looking favorably on “clean diesel” vehicles – they emphasized the degree of improvement from old to new diesel trucks and buses. An FDEP spokesperson also speculated that “electric alternatives may cost two to three times more,” whereupon Mr. Compton helpfully pointed out that the additional up-front cost of current electric buses is more like 50 percent.
Needless to say, the idea that the state could end up spending part of the diesel settlement money on more diesel vehicles has scandalized pro-EV groups such as the Sierra Club and Drive Electric Florida, and they are encouraging Florida residents to contact the DEP and urge them to back electromobility solutions, specifically by taking the online Diesel Emissions Mitigation Program Public Survey.
The Sierra Club’s recommended replies to the survey’s most important questions:
- How should Florida divide the total available funding? “100% Government-Owned Vehicles and Equipment.”
- Which major project categories should the state prioritize? Priority 1: “School Buses, Shuttle Buses, and Transit Buses.” Priority 2: “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.”
- What factors should be used to identify mitigation projects? Priority 1: “Projects that replace diesel units with alternative fuels and/or electric vehicles and equipment.”
Remember that the survey must be completed before the May 11 deadline.