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Oregon, Washington Team Up For Share Of VW Emissions Settlement Bucks

Gerry Lauzon
Flickr -

Oregon and Washington state are teaming up to a get a share of a remediation fund created under a court case against Volkswagen for emissions fraud. The first grants to promote electric cars could come later this year.

Automaker Volkswagen Group admitted that it installed software that was designed to cheat on tailpipe emissions tests. Under the terms of a court settlement, VW has set aside a huge pile of money to make restitution to affected diesel car owners and to the states they live in.

The violating diesel vehicles included Volkswagens, Audis and Porsches from the 2009-2016 model years. About 22,000 of the dirty diesels are registered in Washington and nearly 14,000 in Oregon.

The car owners are eligible for buybacks or repairs and cash. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington jointly submitted a list of projects to a Volkswagen fund to clean up the air. Volkswagen is on the hook for $2 billion over 10 years to support plug-in vehicle infrastructure and awareness nationally.

Washington and Oregon's governors requested VW pay to add hundreds more electric car charging stations along major Northwest highways and at public buildings. They asked for money for marketing and promotion and for VW to provide electric cars to local car-sharing services.

"To date, our states have shown a strong market interest and early adoption of electric vehicles, with the second and third-highest market shares for electric vehicles (EVs) in the nation," began the submission signed by Governors Jay Inslee and Kate Brown. "This proposal outlines a vision for a transformative investment that can drive the market for EVs in our states from early adoption into the mainstream.”

According to Volkswagen's "Electrify America" website, it will make its initial picks from among all of the proposed projects by February 22 and submit that list to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review.

And there's more. The Washington State Department of Ecology, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and interested area tribes stand to get a share of a separate $3 billion "environmental remediation" trust fund, also funded by Volkswagen.

The distribution formula for this mitigation fund is based on the number of violating vehicles in each jurisdiction. It would direct roughly $112 million to Washington and about $73 million to Oregon. Federal consent decrees set parameters for eligible uses of this funding, which mostly relate to curbing diesel pollution.

"We expect that sometime between June and September the beneficiaries will be submitting plans and may begin requesting funds from the trustee," said Washington Department of Ecology Air Quality Program Manager Stu Clark.

During a well-attended webinar Thursday, Clark said you are likely to see projects to replace or re-power older diesel equipment with new, cleaner-burning engines. Vehicles or fleets eligible for upgrades could include locomotives, school buses, shuttles, freight trucks, ferries/tugboats and cargo handling equipment at ports.

In addition, Clark said Washington state would reserve 15 percent of this mitigation funding to install even more electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Last month, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality pre-filed a legislative authorization so it can spend its share of the mitigation funds on similar projects to scrap and replace older diesel engines and equipment.

Electric cars still account for a very small slice of new vehicle sales even in the states such as California that are pushing them hard. The Association of Global Automakers is tracking progress toward lofty state goals for EV adoption. The association reported that in 2016 (data covers January through November), battery-powered and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles comprised not quite two percent of all vehicle sales to consumers in Oregon and Washington state.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.