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BOSTON -- When it comes to clean transportation, Massachusetts ranked in the top seven states for making the most of funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report card from MASSPIRG Education Fund and Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.
After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico). Massachusetts got its grade because of the plan’s commitment to using the funds to accelerate transportation electrification. The state’s plan lost points because it leaves open the possibility that a portion of the money will be spent on diesel, but the state’s spending so far makes it clear it is serious about electrification.
“The Volkswagen settlement gave states across the country the opportunity to make huge strides in the essential transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system,” MASSPIRG transportation campaign director Matt Casale said. “We are so grateful that Massachusetts has taken the opportunity to make good with the money its been given.”
Massachusetts placed near the top of the study. The report gave only 15 states a C or better for money-spending policies that increase access to electric vehicle charging and bolster electric school and transit bus fleets. Fourteen states, along with Puerto Rico, received a failing score.
The study comes as drivers prepare for Memorial Day, which kicks off the summertime travel season. Last year, some 40 million-plus Americans took extended car trips during this weekend. The vast majority of those miles were driven in gas-powered cars that not only contributed to poor air quality, asthma and other respiratory diseases but also exacerbated global warming.
The settlement does not preclude states from spending the money on new diesel or compressed natural gas technology. However, considering the environmental and health harms caused by fossil fuels, this report focused on whether states used this money to electrify transportation. Adopting large numbers of electric vehicles -- both for personal use and public transit and school bus fleets -- offers many benefits, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a previous U.S. PIRG study.
“Climate change is a health emergency for our families and our communities,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center. “States have the unique opportunity to fund projects that will cut carbon pollution by electrifying our cars, trucks and buses. We all deserve clean air and a stable climate, so we should make the most of the Volkswagen settlement money and accelerate electrification.”
The states that collected top grades did so by committing substantial amounts to accelerate electrification, including electrifying their mass transit systems. Specifically, Massachusetts is using the funds to purchase new electric buses for Vineyard Transit Authority and Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, and will be investing in a larger network of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
“Millions of cars will hit the roads this weekend and throughout the summer,” Casale said. “Imagine the benefits to the public health and the climate if those were electric cars with zero-tailpipe emissions, or, even better yet, if people had more clean public transportation options, such as electric buses. The Volkswagen settlement can help us get there, but only if states take full advantage of the opportunity. Thank you, Massachusetts for being at the forefront of this effort.”
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