Spending plan for $18M in Volkswagen money stalls out

Lawmakers will wait until next year to decide how to spend Vermont’s share of a $4.3 billion settlement with Volkswagen over alleged emissions fraud.

A bill, titled H.487, allocating the $17.8 million Vermont is to receive didn’t make it out of committee by Friday’s deadline.

The legislation would use the money to increase the number of charging stations for electric vehicles, encourage more medium- and heavy-duty truck owners to purchase electric vehicles, and “transform the public transportation and school bus markets.”

Robin Chesnut-Tangerman
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, right, stands with other legislators. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
It includes an administrative position to manage the payout from the German automaker, some of whose cars were found to contain software that produced deceptive readings on emissions testing.

Legislators said they didn’t want to restrict the money’s use prematurely.

“We took a lot of testimony … and felt it wasn’t ready for primetime,” said Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, one of the bill’s sponsors.

One of the lawmakers’ aims was to spend the settlement money in ways that would benefit the state’s economy, he said.

The money must also be spent in accordance with federal guidelines, which say Vermont’s $17.8 million from the VW settlement must either reduce nitrous oxide emissions or expand infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Meeting both the state and federal aims proved problematic. For instance, buying propane buses from Japan would address nitrous oxide emissions, “but it doesn’t give any economic benefit to the state,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.

Lawmakers also ran into problems as they tried to set forth legislative findings regarding the transportation sector, Chesnut-Tangerman said.

That term is itself ambiguous, he said. One committee member found a definition that includes heavy trucks, trains, airplanes and freight ships, and another found a definition that refers only to financial instruments connected to forms of transportation.

Committee members didn’t want “to unintentionally tie the state’s hands … or limit the use of the money in ways we didn’t intend,” he said.

“With $18 million at stake, we need to be pretty sure about the words we’re using,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.

The settlement money represents Vermont’s cut from a $2.7 billion “mitigation trust fund” that VW must create as part of the company’s bargain with the U.S. government.

The fund is being disbursed among the states based on the number of VW automobiles owned in each. Vermont has around 3,000 of the vehicles.

The substance the money is supposed to target, nitrous oxide, is emitted from automobiles as a product of incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

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  • Edward Letourneau

    How about doing something for the people who bought those cars?

    • chris wilmot

      Nah- they have teslas to buy

      • Edward Letourneau

        Since electric cars need to be charged by either their own engine or with power generated by fossil fuels, I’m not convinced they are actually none polluting. Then there is the issue of mining the materials for the batteries, producing them and disposing of them. Its a cost that is not included in the savings.

        • JohnGreenberg

          “electric cars need to be charged by either their own engine or with power generated by fossil fuels….” unless they’re charged with power generated by non-fossil fuel sources (nuclear power, hydro, renewables, etc.)

    • Ryan Haac

      Please check yourself here.
      Individual car owners have been given buyback options directly through VW that are quite favorable. For example, one of the options is for VW to buy the car back at close to cost that was paid for the vehicle.
      This money is to mitigate the environmental impact of VW’s cheating. Also, Tesla is not the only electric car available. If that’s what you think, Elon Musk has already won…
      Electric cars are far from perfect but they are a step in the right direction toward energy independence.
      I’m glad they didn’t pull the trigger on a plan that was not ready. I think that is the real story here – our representatives saw that the plan was not robust enough and stood down. So I say thank you!

      • Edward Letourneau

        Tell me what is the “environmental impact” of a car that gets 40 mpg, vs. the environmental impact of a vehicle that gets 15 mpg? Which one is worse for the environment?

  • Steve Baker

    Would we ever be Smart Enough to use the money to Pay Down our Debt or Balance the Budget?

    No….not in Vermont. The Legislature wants to dig another rabbit hole that we can pour money into. But there’s plenty of time to Whine about cuts in Federal Dollars flowing our way.

  • chris wilmot

    So they are going to make it easier for themselves and other rich folk to be subsidized for being rich enough to buy a teasla and avoid the gasoline tax. A win win for the rich folks of vt. Their Tesla gets cheaper and they can avoid that pesky gasoline tax meant to offset the damage their car causes to our infrastructure.
    Our state reps…representing their elite friends interests while ignoring average Vermonters