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New York State Announces Plans For $128M Volkswagen Settlement

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos at CDTA headquarters in Albany, NY

The Cuomo administration says New York will use its share of the settlement in the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal to boost the state's clean transportation initiatives.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos announced the state's plans Wednesday at CDTA headquarters in Albany.  He says the nearly $128 million the state has received from the 2016 settlement will allow New York to speed up the transition to a clean transportation system.  “And this is a very exciting day for us, turning lemons into lemonade. Turning a cheating scandal into something transformative for New York.”

VW acknowledged that more than 550,000 vehicles in the U.S. were programmed to turn on emissions controls during government lab tests and turn them off while on the road.  "Emissions cheating software had been put into these cars, so what was registering as clean at the emissions inspection station was actually dirty. It was actually emitting higher levels of nitrogen oxides. They were caught through the work of all of the attorneys general that participated. We brought Volkswagen to justice."

Seggos says the settlement funds will increase the number of electric vehicles across the state, cutting air pollution. He notes VW made a commitment to buy back 25,000 vehicles sold across the state with the cheating device.

Roger Downs, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, called the VW incident a tragedy that spawned opportunity for the Empire State.   "Volkswagen’s deliberate installation of cheating devices facilitated up to 40 times the allowable nitrogen oxide emissions from their vehicles sold in New York and most likely contributed to an increase in asthma, lung cancers and cardiac issues for New Yorkers already suffering from respiratory ailments in high pollution areas. Volkswagen likely also, in their illegal activity, contributed in increases in acid rain, killing crops, forests and aquatic life in or lakes rivers and streams."

Seggos says six public sessions and 60 meetings around the state with industry leaders and environmentalists preceded  Wednesday's announcement. Seggos says the plan has three priorities.   "First is to stimulate the electrification of the system, moving away from petroleum-based fuels into electrical power. Second, reducing diesel vehicle emissions, very important to use this money to move away from power sources of the past. And third, leveraging public and private investment.  I mean this is a $128 dollar pot of money and it would be a lost opportunity if we didn't use that to take that money even further. First by integrating it into all the programs we have at the state level but certainly by maximizing what the local authorities can come together. So all told we expect to leverage a total of $300 million dollars in investment into clean transportation in New York State."

Officials say New York is working with other states to develop new policies to further electric vehicle development and deployment.  Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says a full 30 percent of New York emissions sources originate with the transportation sector.   "When we talk about climate change and we talk about global warming, these are steps that we can make here, not just in the county of Albany but throughout the State of New York."

CDTA will use settlement funds to purchase six new electric buses. The DEC hopes to increase the number of electric school busses in the state from 10 to 115 with the funds.  State Assemblywoman Pat Fahy believes New York should strive to make the most of the money.    "We wanna get the best environmental bang for the buck. And I do believe that especially on the public transit part of this it will be absolutely essential and transformative in getting those electric busses."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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