Spending plan for $18M in Volkswagen money stalls out - VTDigger

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.

Mike Polhamus

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