Almost $109 million is coming to Illinois from German car giant Volkswagen as part of a multibillion-dollar settlement after the company admitted to secretly installing devices in its diesel cars to cheat emissions tests.
The money is supposed to go to clean air projects to be determined by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. But there’s already criticism that the Illinois EPA is rushing to spend the money in advance of the November election without enough public input on what projects that money should support.
Brett Chase, senior investigator at the Better Government Association, wrote last week that instead of allocating the money to reduce car emissions, the state EPA “released an overarching plan that instead aims to reduce harmful emissions from trains, ferries and tugboats.”
After initially pledging to hold “numerous public input sessions,” according to environmental advocates, Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina announced a draft plan in February without indicating there would be any meetings to get public input.
Under that draft plan, some $71 million – or 65 percent of all the money Illinois will receive – will go to so-called “off-road projects” that include purchasing newer trains, ferries and tugboats. Environmental groups wanted 85 percent of the funds to be used for electric vehicle projects – such as building more charging stations.
The Illinois Senate has already expressed its dissatisfaction at the lack of public input and last month passed a bill that would require six hearings on the plan as well as the creation of a task force to decide how the money should be spent.
The bill sponsor, state Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) criticized Messina for holding private meetings with business leaders – including construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar – while excluding members of the public.
Messina told legislators he didn’t think the public would show up.
Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said that the “one bright spot” in the plan is the $10.9 million that is designated for the purchase of electric school buses.
“Fewer kids across the state will be exposed to harmful diesel emissions that can trigger asthma attacks, interfere with children’s ability to learn and result in missed school days,” said Mudd.
Mudd and BGA reporter Chase join Eddie Arruza to discuss the settlement plan.