Because VW tried to dodge pollution laws, Utah will get $35M to spend on low-emission vehicles

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File) In this Oct. 5, 2015, file photo, the VW sign of Germany's Volkswagen car company is displayed at the building of a company's retailer in Berlin.

Utah’s state-owned vehicle fleet will become cleaner, thanks to its share of a settlement Volkswagen paid for selling cars it had rigged to evade emission limits.

“We’re thrilled to put $35 million into cleaner trucks, buses and electrical charging material throughout the state,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday. “While VW’s violation of the Clean Air Act was disappointing, we look forward to investing these funds in vehicles and resources that will reduce emissions and help clean our air.”

The $15.7 billion settlement resolved the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions against the German automaker for secretly equipping its diesel models with illegal software that enabled them to cheat emission tests, allowing them to emit up to 40 times the allowable emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOx. The scheme involved 600,000 vehicles for model years 2009 to 2016.

The $35 million is Utah’s share of a $2.9 billion component geared toward reducing NOx emissions. Accordingly, the investment is aimed at offsetting emissions from the 7,877 VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles illegally sold in Utah, resulting in 269 tons of excess NOx pollution per year, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

DEQ administered the settlement funds under an environmental mitigation plan authorized by the Legislature and to be submitted to the settlement trustee this week.

Nearly three-fourths of these vehicles were sold in Wasatch Front counties that are out of attainment for federal fine particulate, or PM2.5, standards. Government fleets tend to be older vehicles operating in these counties, DEQ Executive Director Alan Matheson told lawmakers Tuesday.

“The projects we have selected will make the biggest impact on our air quality at the lowest cost, allowing Utah to maximize the air quality benefits of this settlement,” Matheson said. “Targeting those fleets gives the taxpayer a double benefit: You get the air quality benefit, but you also get the newer vehicles to serve the public.”