Advocates say lawmakers in Minnesota may be jeopardizing nearly a half billion dollars the state is set to receive in an environmental settlement.
Volkswagen lost a court battle that revealed it violated the Clean Air Act over so-called “cheater vehicles” that had software that allowed up to 11 million diesel vehicles across the country to pass emissions tests.
Public-policy attorney Leili Fatehi, with the Minneapolis think tank, Aparatus, says several bills are making their way through legislative committees in Minnesota over who holds the purse strings.
The problem, she says, is that the consent decree in the settlement is very specific to how the money can be spent. She says lawmakers are being premature and reckless.
“At best, we could be delayed from receiving any money for two years while we would resolve the issue, and at worst it would put Minnesota on a permanently ineligible list and our money would get redistributed among other states,” she explains.
Multiple plans for settlement money
Several bills are pending at the statehouse, with some dictating that the funds have to be appropriated by the Legislature. Another sets aside some of the money to convert school buses from gas to propane.
Minnesota will get $47 million from the trust between 2017 and 2027 to offset the excess air pollution caused by VW’s actions.
Faheti says the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is drafting plans to inform the public about the settlement and gather information and ideas on how to spend it.
“The agency is supposed to put together this mitigation plan that they present to the trustee and the trustee says ‘Yes,’ ‘No’ or ‘Change it,’” she says. “This is a process that includes public input.”
A court-appointed trust will start certifying the beneficiaries next month, then the states will have 90 days to submit their plans for the money. If approved, the funds would be distributed before the end of the year.