Your help needed spending $47M VW payout to reduce air pollution

Help undo the damage wrought by Volkswagen's emissions scandal.
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Got any ideas for how you could use $47 million to help Minnesota's environment?

That's the question being asked by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which over the next 10 years will receive $47 million in a settlement from German carmaker Volkswagen, which was ordered to make a huge payout after cheating on diesel car emission tests.

The MPCA has said the money will be used to offset the air pollution caused by VW's more-polluting-than-first-thought vehicles and are holding three public sessions over the next month to hear suggestions.

There are some limits on how the money can be used, however. Because the VW scandal resulted in more nitrogen oxide (NOx) being released into the air, the MPCA will use the money to reduce NOx emissions from vehicles in Minnesota.

This can include school, shuttle or transit buses, freight trucks, trains, forklifts, ferries, tugs and airport ground vehicles, and the reduction can be achieved by replacing engines with new, more efficient diesel, alternative fuel or all-electric ones.

Reducing levels of NOx in the air can prevent those suffering from conditions including asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases from harmful effects.

MPR notes that the MPCA will take into account environmental justice when deciding which projects get funding – so for example if someone suggests replacing school buses in a poor, more air-polluted urban area, that is more likely to get funding than a school bus in a wealthy, less-polluted suburb.

Studies have shown that those living in lower-income communities and communities of color are disproportionally impacted by air pollution.

Before it can get the money, the MPCA has to submit a plan to federal authorities, which is where you come in.

The three public listening sessions are as follows:

  • Thursday, Feb. 23, 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. at the MPCA offices at 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul.
  • Monday, Mar. 6, 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis.
  • Wednesday, Mar. 15, 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the MPCA's Brainerd office at 7678 College Road, Suite 105, Baxter.

VW has also agreed to buy back, repair or terminate the leases of the estimated 11 million vehicles involved in the emissions-fixing, as well as investing $2 billion over 10 years in zero-emissions vehicle infrastructure and awareness building.

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