Advocates for clean air and clean fuels around the country are disappointed by a recent announcement from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that the funds NJ received from a state settlement against Volkswagen for its 2015 emissions testing scandal will be redirected to general state spending. The decision has disappointed clean air advocates who had hoped that the nearly $70 million received from state-prosecuted VW penalites might be spent on community and business projects that could get a wide variety of individuals and organizations involved with keeping the state’s air clean.
But in an answer provided in a Q&A session with the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, the DEP stated that “the $69 million penalty was directed to the General Fund, consistent with the disposition of all penalty receipts.” This diversion precludes the money being sequestered into a fund that could be used to finance projects specifically intended to reduce emissions in New Jersey.
The $69 million being directed to the general budget is separate from the VW Mitigation Trust funds that each state will receive as part of a federal settlement with VW. Each state is working on its own timeline to develop a plan to distribute those Mitigation Plan funds. Asked for an update on NJ’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan progress, DEP responded that “NJDEP has not drafted a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan yet. NJDEP is currently working with the Governor’s Office to finalize a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.”
Almost everyone knows the Volkswagen emissions scandal story: in 2015, the company was caught fooling emissions tests via software that purposely turned on VW vehicles’ emissions controls only during testing, leaving the cars to produce up to 40x more NOx and other emissions when driven in real-world conditions (where the emissions controls would remain off). Installed in nearly 11 million cars worldwide, the scandal prompted outrage and disbelief from Thailand to Tennessee. A timeline with the details of the events during and after the scandal broke is available here.
As part of its multi-billion dollar settlement to the USA for violating the US Clean Air Act, Volkswagen created the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust. The trust provides nearly $3,000,000,000 in funds to be distributed amongst states and Indian Tribes with the aim of mitigating the damage caused by VW’s environmental dishonesty.
In addition to this large dispensation, many states also fined VW for violation of state-level environmental protection legislation. New Jersey was among the states that pursued action against VW, and received approximately $69 million in addition to the funds received from the Mitigation Trust.
NJ environmentalists were hopeful that the majority of VW funds received would go towards mitigating the damage caused by VW’s purposeful circumvention of emissions standards, but now are left feeling frustrated by the diversion of millions of dollars that otherwise would have gone to making their state a cleaner and healthier place to live.
One commenter appearing on the news source that broke this story, NJ Spotlight, lamented that “this is a huge missed opportunity and a step backward for all the voters who thought Murphy would be different from the prior administration.”