Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.
Right now, Pennsylvania is faced with a historic opportunity to revolutionize state infrastructure. Because of a settlement from a recent lawsuit, Pennsylvania has over 118 million dollars to spend on infrastructure-related environmental improvement projects. And while few are aware, the public has some input in how this money will be spent.
Last December, Volkswagen was sued by the EPA for secretly violating pollutant emission standards through the usage of “defeat devices.”  The cars in question were in violation of the Clean Air Act, for emitting a quantity of nitrous oxide well above the legal limit. As remedies of the case, the company was required to recall and repair 85% of the vehicles in violation, create an Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund, and invest in Zero Emission Vehicles. 
Pennsylvania, one of the states which sued Volkswagen, is slated to gain roughly 118.5 million dollars, most of which the state is free to devote to reducing emissions. Just a few weeks ago, the last 8 million dollars of the settlement were confirmed in the form of the “Second Partial Consent Decree.” Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental of Protection (DEP) is in the process of creating a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, which outlines how the settlement allocation will be spent.
The DEP plans to focus these projects in areas they deem “priority areas.” These include areas of “nonattainment,” “high pollution areas,” “environmental justice areas,” and hazardous properties.  Philadelphia, for instance, falls into many of these categories, as the 10th most polluted city in the country.  Pittsburgh is also listed as a focus in the plan, due to the city’s high population density relative to the rest of the state.
There are numerous stipulations which govern how the money can be spent. For instance, due to the nature of the lawsuit, the settlement funds must be spent in such a way as “to reduce harmful emissions from diesel vehicles.”  As such, the allotment must be allocated toward one of ten specified vehicle-related categories. These include class 8 freight trucks, a group of eligible bus models, several types of non-road vehicles, and “zero emission vehicle supply equipment,” such as EV charging stations.  Other projects are allowed, but these encompass the majority included in the draft of the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. Also listed in the plan is the assumed administrative cost of each allowed project.
As it stands, based on the language of the plan, the DEP is likely to spend a portion of their pollution mitigation allotment on “clean diesel” projects. These include diesel repowers, replacements, and retrofits. However, this is not the only route available to the DEP. The current draft of the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan also allows for the money to be spent on electric vehicles and engines, as well as EV infrastructure. 
The DEP is now accepting comments on their proposal. Comments will be accepted until July 5th, at which point the DEP will draft the finalized Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. The DEP has additionally hosted six listening sessions across the state to gather public feedback on the proposal. 
The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) published a report in January, which the group submitted during public comment and which argues in favor of expanding electric vehicle infrastructure. Electric vehicles, the group argues, are beneficial for a large variety of reasons; electric vehicles use less energy and emit less CO2 on average than conventional vehicles, in terms of both tailpipe emissions and manufacturing processes. As a result, PennPIRG argues that the DEP should spend the settlement money on electric vehicle charging stations and electric buses. 
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the state level of vehicle pollution. Regardless of the form it takes, whether diesel improvement projects or cleaner, electric technology, environmental infrastructure reform will substantially alleviate local environmental damage; we can only hope that other Pennsylvania industries will pursue similar, vigorous action.
"Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement." EPA. May 19, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/volkswagen-clean-air-act-civil-settlement.
"PA.Gov." Home. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Air/Volkswagen/Pages/default.aspx.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (2017). Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. [online] PA.Gov. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.elibrary.dep.state.pa.us/dsweb/Get/Document-116474/Draft%20VW%20Beneficiary%20Mitigation%20Plan.pdf
Ricci, Dana. "Philly: 10th Most Polluted City in the U.S." Philadelphia Magazine. April 25, 2012. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2012/04/25/tenth-polluted-city/.
"PA.Gov." Home. Accessed June 19, 2017. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-10/documents/amended20lpartial-cd.pdf
"Report: Make VW Pay." From Deceit to Transformation | PennPIRG. January 18, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2017. http://www.pennpirg.org/reports/pap/deceit-transformation.
Photo Credit Flickr User: Camila Belén
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