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When it comes to clean transportation, Texas got a “D” for underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report card from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.
After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Texas got its grade because the funds were made available for dirty fuels like compressed fracked gas, with no extra decision criteria for zero emissions vehicles.
“The Volkswagen settlement gave Texas the opportunity to make huge strides in the essential transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system,” Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director said. “It’s deeply disappointing that there’s a lot of good is coming out of how some states are spending this money -- but we are not going nearly far enough.”
Texas placed near the bottom of states overall. The report gave only 15 states a C or better for money-spending policies that increase access to electric vehicle charging and bolster electric school and transit bus fleets. Fourteen states, along with Puerto Rico, received a failing score.
The study comes as drivers prepare for Memorial Day, which kicks off the summertime travel season. Last year, some 40 million-plus Americans took extended car trips during this weekend. The vast majority of those miles were driven in gas-powered cars that not only contributed to poor air quality, asthma and other respiratory diseases but also exacerbated global warming.
The settlement does not preclude states from spending the money on new diesel or compressed natural gas technology. However, considering the environmental and health harms caused by fossil fuels, this report focused on whether states used this money to electrify transportation. Adopting large numbers of electric vehicles -- both for personal use and public transit and school bus fleets -- offers many benefits, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a previous U.S. PIRG study.
“Climate change is a health emergency for our families and our communities,” said Morgan Folger, director of Environment America Research & Policy Center Clean Cars Campaign. “States have the unique opportunity to fund projects that will cut carbon pollution by electrifying our cars, trucks and buses. We all deserve clean air and a stable climate, so we should make the most of the Volkswagen settlement money and accelerate electrification.”
The states that collected F’s have limited or no plans to prioritize electric vehicles and infrastructure. But for poorly performing states that still have money, it’s not too late to direct it toward projects that center on electric mass transit and infrastructure, the report notes. Specifically, Texas can make sure to prioritize zero emissions vehicles when it doles out the funds.
“Millions of cars will hit the roads this weekend and throughout the summer,” Bay Scoggin said. “Imagine the benefits to the public health and the climate if those were electric cars with zero-tailpipe emissions, or, even better yet, if people had more clean public transportation options, such as electric buses. The Volkswagen settlement can help us get there, but only if states take full advantage of the opportunity.”
CA, MA, NY
CO, GA, MD, MI, MN, NJ, NV, OH
AK, CT, DC, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, LA, ME, MO, MT, NE, NH, NM, NC, OR, SC, TN, TX, VA, WY
AL, AZ, AK, DE, FL, KY, MS, ND, OK, PA, PR, SD, UT, WV, WI
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