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Assembly Republicans call for prioritized spending of Volkswagen settlement

POSTED November 3, 2016 9:37 p.m.

After intentionally violating state emissions rules, Volkswagen recently settled with the State of California to spend nearly $1.2 billion remedying the violation. Now, Assembly Republicans are calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to allocate the funds to programs that offer the greatest health benefits to Californians and mitigate the cost of improving the state’s transportation infrastructure.

In September 2015, Volkswagen admitted to intentionally violating California’s emissions rules. Between 2009 and 2015, 617,000 diesel vehicles sold nationally were equipped with illegal software “defeat devices,” allowing vehicles which were actually exceeding allowable levels by up to 40 times to appear compliant with emissions standards. Of the 617,000 vehicles with “defeat devices” sold nationwide, nearly 80,000 were sold in California.

A proposed settlement was reached in June and was approved by the U.S. District Court on Oct. 25, requiring Volkswagen to spend approximately $10 billion to buy back or modify vehicles on which “defeat devices” were installed, as well as pay $2.7 billion into a trust to support environmental programs and reduce emissions and an additional $2 billion on investments and promotion of zero emissions vehicles.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris also secured an additional $86 million in civil penalties, of which $10 million will go toward grants to research and develop technology to detect “defeat devices” and better assess on-road emissions, as well as to monitor, model, and mitigate the environmental and public health impacts of vehicle emissions, especially on children and other vulnerable populations.

“Curbing emissions is vital to protecting our planet for future generations and the deceit Volkswagen practiced in pursuit of profit is unconscionable,” said Harris. “This agreement holds the company accountable for violating California and federal environmental protection laws and requires major investments in our environment and zero emission technology, including over a billion dollars for California alone.”

California will receive $1.18 billion dollars — more than one quarter of the funding Volkswagen must provide for environmental projects in states injured by the company’s conduct and investments it must make in zero emission technology. Of that money, $800 million will support California Air Resources Zero Emission Vehicle programs, and $381 million will be deposited into California’s Mitigation Trust Fund for the Legislature to allocate toward additional mitigation actions.

In a letter addressed to Gov. Brown following the settlement’s approval, Assembly Republicans called for a spending plan that would “best serve hard-working Californians.”

The letter asked that the $800 million expenditure requirement focus on several priorities: funding the development and up to 100 percent of the incremental cost to deploy electric-drive capable commercial vehicles, focusing the “Green City” initiative on zero emission freight transport projects and incentivizing zero emission vehicle purchases by covering the sales tax on trade-in vehicles.

Assembly Republicans also requested that the $381 million in the Mitigation Trust Fund be spent by providing health benefits to Californians living near port facilities and trade corridors, appropriating resources for activities including the early deployment of heavy-duty trucks meeting the cleanest air quality standards, establishing a Zero and Near-Zero-Emission Intermodal Terminals Program and providing rebates for businesses and landlords who install light duty electric vehicle charging stations.

“We are deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to this penalty, but welcome the opportunity to invest these funds into programs that will benefit Californians,” the letter reads, signed by Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes and 66th District Assemblyman David Hadley. “We look forward to discussing this issue in the coming months.”

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