clean diesel

Advancing Public Health Protections In Our Case Against Volkswagen

By Cynthia Giles

For years, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” marketing campaign was geared toward environmentally-conscious consumers eager to help reduce pollution. We now know that Volkswagen duped these consumers, and that in fact its cars emit up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx pollution. But after steadfast work by colleagues across the federal government and the State of California, this distortion to the market for truly green cars in the U.S. is finally going to be remedied.

Last month, a federal judge in California approved a groundbreaking settlement that covers nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. This partial settlement holds Volkswagen accountable for its illegal actions, and puts in place remedies for the harm it caused to our air. In addition to requiring Volkswagen to offer to buy back the violating cars to stop the ongoing pollution, the settlement requires Volkswagen to mitigate the illegal emissions, and to make zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) investments that will have a lasting impact on public health and clean transportation in America.

The ZEV investment requirement delivers on the clean air promise that Volkswagen originally made but failed to deliver to its customers. Volkswagen has to invest $2 billion nationwide to accelerate growth in the ZEV market overall, under terms that ensure that all Americans benefit:

  •  VW is explicitly required to solicit and consider input from states, municipalities, tribes and other federal agencies before it makes ZEV investment decisions. VW’s investment plans will also be available on the web, and will have to include the evidence and basis for VW’s conclusion that the investments will advance use of ZEVs. This robust process of stakeholder input and public transparency will help ensure a credible and effective business investment strategy that benefits all Americans, regardless of the car they drive.
  • VW’s ZEV investments and its public outreach efforts must be brand neutral. That means that all ZEV vehicles using industry standard technology – not just the ones VW makes – have to be able to use the ZEV infrastructure. And it means that ZEV outreach cannot feature or favor VW’s vehicles. The agreement sets strict limits to make sure VW adheres to this essential requirement so that everyone interested in cleaner transportation – businesses, governments and consumers – will benefit.
  • The ZEV investment plan will be updated every 30 months, ensuring that the investments account for changes in ZEV technology and the ZEV market. The same process and opportunity for stakeholder input, and the same accountability measures, will apply every step of the way.

EPA’s role in the ZEV investment is limited but essential: EPA, working with the Justice Department, is going to ensure that VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral, and that VW complies with all the terms of the settlement. EPA does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions, and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement – but we will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.

This settlement can make a real difference in advancing the rapidly growing market for clean vehicles. It ensures that Volkswagen finally delivers on the promise it made for cleaner air and a cleaner transportation future.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Cruise Ships in Brooklyn One Step Closer to ‘Plugging In’

By Dan Birkett

When the Queen Mary 2 steams into town no one in Red Hook, Brooklyn can miss the 150,000 ton, 17-deck vessel towering over the low slung skyline. Modern cruise ships like Her Royal Majesty’s are essentially behemoth floating resorts, equipped with multiple swimming pools, dozens of restaurants, theaters, casinos and more. But to keep a floating resort up and running requires a floating power plant that’s up to the challenge. And it’s no small task. The electrical demand is equivalent to powering about 10,000 homes. These onboard power plants are typically fired with what’s known as bunker fuel, a heavily polluting petroleum product that is literally the bottom of the barrel residue from the refinery process. It’s so heavy that it is solid at room temperature and must be preheated before it can flow to the engines.

More and more these ships are calling on New York. The number of passengers disembarking from one of the area’s three terminals (in Hell’s Kitchen, at pier 12 in Red Hook, or across the harbor in Bayonne, NJ) has increased nearly 30 percent since 2008. With this growth comes increasing urgency to mitigate the air quality impacts. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook is now poised to become the first on the East Coast to provide a reprieve for residents adjacent to the docks. A breakthrough of sorts occurred last Thursday when the Port Authority Board of Commissioners authorized a deal that includes additional funding from Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to cover cost overruns. ESDC joins a growing list of agencies that are partnering with the Port Authority to bring this project to life, including EPA, which chipped in $2.9 million in federal money. For now proponents of the project can breathe a sigh of relief. Come 2014, when the first ship is scheduled to plug in, those breaths may well be a lot healthier.

About the author: Dan Birkett is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Region 2. He works on EPA’s clean diesel program in the Region’s New York City office.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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