Ecology will use the settlement to reduce exposure to harmful diesel pollution. As directed by the Legislature, $12 million is being devoted to replace old school buses and another $9.7 million for electric transit buses. For the millions of students, commuters, and people who live near bus routes, this will reduce the amount of diesel pollution they breathe each day.
The remainder of the settlement money will go toward buying electric vehicles for state agencies ($5.5 million) and for cleaner trucks at the Seattle and Tacoma public ports ($1 million).
“Pollution from diesel engines is a serious health threat and this settlement will help right the wrongs committed by Volkswagen,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “We intend to invest this settlement in our communities and reduce air pollution where needed most.”
For years, Volkswagen installed fraudulent software on many of its diesel engine cars. The software turned on a vehicle’s full suite of emissions controls only when the car was being tested, and turned the emission controls off during normal driving. Volkswagen’s emission-cheating software allowed up to 40 times the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxides to be released into Washington’s atmosphere.
Although invisible to the naked eye, nitrogen oxides are extremely potent not only by themselves, but also when they react with other pollutants in the air to form smog. Research shows that prolonged exposure to smog can limit lung function in children, cause breathing trouble for people with asthma, and can even trigger heart attacks for those with heart disease.
Ecology is currently developing school and transit bus grant programs that focus on replacing the oldest buses first. Schools and transit authorities have already been contacted and are now preparing to apply for grants. Ecology anticipates they will begin accepting applications in the coming weeks and award grants as early as fall of 2018.
This state settlement is separate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 settlement with Volkswagen for violating the federal Clean Air Act. Washington levied its own penalty on the automaker for violating the state’s Clean Air Act. As a result, Washington will receive $28 million for the more than 22,000 affected vehicles registered in the state.