Maine’s share of the recent settlement with Volkswagen for the car manufacturer’s violation of emission laws is about $21 million. While the funds come with restrictions, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) worked with the Department of Environmental Protection’s air quality bureau to put together a draft plan for spending the money.
DOT is accepting comments on the plan through Jan. 15 at: maine.gov/mdot/vw/comment/.
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency alleged that various Volkswagen vehicles included software to allow them to circumvent EPA emissions standards. In 2016, Volkswagen entered into a settlement for the violations of the Clean Air Act. The settlement included funds to offset the state’s cost of mitigating the environmental and public health impacts of the excess nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.
Since the funds are meant to compensate Maine for environmental damage caused by excess NOx and other diesel emissions, the primary goal of the settlement is to reduce pollution from diesel engines. DOT’s draft plan proposes dividing the funding as follows:
- $8.4 million to DOT priorities for multimodal transportation improvements;
- $5.3 million to public, quasi-public, and private vehicle fleets with larger diesel engines;
- $4.2 million to Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) programs;
- and $3.2 million to zero emission Electric Vehicle Service Equipment.
For a small state like Maine, the funds provide a significant opportunity to shape the future of transportation. From the Island Institute’s perspective, the draft plan provides two distinct avenues to help our island and coastal economies.
Funding the diesel emissions reduction program would mean a good portion of these funds would help cover the cost of repowering commercial vessels. Maine’s Clean Diesel Program has repowered over 100 fishing vessels, ferry boats, and other commercial vessels operating off our coast. An additional $4.2 million in this program will help many more vessel owners repower and provide good work for Maine’s boat yards.
Maine Marine Trades Association helps the Department of Environmental Protection administer the marine portion of this program, and the trade association is working to ensure its members understand how the program works and which vessels might be eligible.
The plan allocates the maximum funding allowed under the settlement to support electric vehicle infrastructure, and it is likely these funds will be used to encourage EV tourism. From a long-term transportation and energy use perspective, this could be a transformative investment. The state’s Route 201 corridor is a high priority for Gov. Paul LePage, and the hope is that some of these funds will be used to draw tourists into other parts of the state. Looking into the future, there may be opportunities for island communities to continue to be leaders in addressing transportation-related energy challenges.
Some of the other eligible uses include shore power for ocean-going vessels like cruise ships so they don’t have to run generators when in port, as well as for forklift and port cargo handling equipment.
DOT will hold two public meetings on the draft plan prior to its becoming final.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series in which Island Institute staff share information that comes from our policy work. Institute staff members often attend meetings, hearings, and other events where changes to government programs, policy, and funding are discussed. To better serve our constituents and readers, we will share information relevant to island and coastal communities. To learn more about our policy work, contact the Island Institute’s policy officer, Nick Battista at email@example.com.