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Commission seeks settlement funds

Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling about 590,000 vehicles with 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engines having emissions defeat devices.

The St. Francois County Commission was told to prepare for money coming soon to the state of Missouri from a settlement made between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and an automobile manufacturer found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The settlement resolves claims filed against Volkswagen AG for violating the Clean Air Act by selling approximately 590,000 vehicles, from model years 2009-2016, with 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engines having emissions defeat devices.

It consists of multiple agreements and requires Volkswagen to take certain actions, such as paying $2.9 billion to a national environmental mitigation trust fund. Beneficiaries — in this case, states — must use their shares to fund specific projects that reduce emissions of NOx from mobile sources.

"The important thing is that $41 million of that is coming to Missouri," said David Grimes, deputy director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission (RPC). "And this is a big deal. Just to put it in perspective, three or four years ago Region 7 of the EPA — made up of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska — had a total of $1.4 million to deal with the four states. Forty-one million bucks to one state is a really big deal."

Grimes told the commissioners that last week he had watched a presentation on the settlement while attending an advisory committee meeting of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Air Quality Program, the administrator of the program in the state.

He said, "As it stands right now for county governments — you all know you do it — you run your trucks for that extra three, four or eight years or whatever it is. You're running them way past when you should have been replacing them.

"The way that it stands right now, it looks like the DNR — as they do their claiming process — are offering 100 percent funding to local governments that would be for replacements or engine repowers. We're not sure how it's going to come out. Let me make it clear that none of this is final.

"In March they are required to do their preliminary draft plan and everything will be based on the plan. So, I don't know yet what the forms, formats, what the requirements will be. What I think is going to happen is that there will be a carved out amount set aside for electrification — charging stations — something like that. I don't know how much money they're going to set aside. I don't know if they're going to target a geographic area. We don't know any of that stuff."

Grimes told the commissioners he felt sure there will be money set aside specifically for transit and school buses.

"I've urged them to consider adding in trash trucks to that, because trash trucks have the same operating profile," he said. "They start before dawn, they stop/start, stop/start, stop/start all day, and then they go to bed after dark and start it all again the next day. I think that makes at least as much sense as the buses."

Grimes added that at the RPC Environmental Air Quality Committee meeting, also attended by Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins, it was thought it best not to offer 100 percent funding to local governments so the money will stretch further. Fifty percent funding was thought to be a better choice, but there would have to be a way to work with counties that have more limited financial resources.

In response to the presentation, Commissioner Mullins said, "It was my understanding and my concern that one of the things that they try to focus on with the Diesel Emission Reduction Act projects is tugboats and ferries. That's all well and good for Ste. Genevieve County, Perry County and Cape Girardeau County, but what about Iron, Madison, Bollinger and St. Francois County? We don't have any tugboats or ferries.

"We want to be a part of that, too. What we're hoping to do is maybe get some funding for some trucks. I got with our Road and Bridge supervisor, Clay Copeland, and he put this together. We have a number of trucks that are diesel, that are high mileage. I've got 12 trucks with our Road and Bridge Department that are from 1995 all the way up to 2015. What I'm interested in is the 100 percent funding that equates to around $330,000 for all 114 counties, I believe.

"Dump trucks are kind of expensive. If we can't get any money for other projects and they want to do something that lowers emissions, provide us with 100 percent funding for some trucks. If we can't go that route, then let's look at helping the cities with the trash trucks. If we can't go that route, let's look at the schools with the school buses. Let's do something, but we want that money in St. Francois County, just like the ASARCO trust."

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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