Chronicle Media: Environmental Groups Say IEPA Plan Leaves State, Residents Behind

April 10, 2018
Environmental Groups: IEPA Plan Leaves State, Residents Behind
By Kevin Beese

If you won a lottery jackpot, it is likely that creating electric car charging stations would not be high on your list of priorities.

The same can be said for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which has come into a lottery-type windfall as part of the Volkswagen lawsuit settlement.

While the national settlement allows for as much as 15 percent of a state’s allocated funds to go to electric vehicle infrastructure, the IEPA has opted to go a different route with the $108 million the state is getting from the Clean Air Act civil settlement, much to the chagrin of state-wide environmental groups.

Rebecca Judd, clean energy advocate for the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter, noted that Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio are all putting the maximum 15 percent of settlement funds into electric vehicle infrastructure.

“Sierra Club urges Illinois not to get left behind investing in a clean transportation future,” Judd said at a state Senate Environment and Conservation Committee hearing on the settlement funds last week. “The maximum 15 percent of the VW funds should be dedicated to light-duty EV infrastructure, along with additional pollution reduction through electrification of the transportation and public transit sector.

“Illinois EPA must ensure the VW funds are used to protect vulnerable populations and environmental justice communities from the impacts of air pollution by investing in transit agencies and a rapid transition to clean, zero-emission technology.”

The IEPA has proposed that 65 percent of the VW funds go to off-road efforts to reduce air pollution, such as new engines for Metra trains.

The $108 million windfall stems from Volkswagen AG and certain of its North American subsidiaries entering into a multi-billion settlement with the federal government for violations of the Clean Air Act. VW publicly admitted to installing “defeat devices” in certain diesel vehicles causing the vehicles to operate differently during emission testing compared to normal operation, circumventing federal vehicle emission standards.

In its plan for settlement funds, the IEPA proposes:

    • 20 percent of money ($21.7 million) going to on-road projects, such as replacing and repowering trucks and buses with diesel, alternative fuel or electric engines.
    • 10 percent ($10.8 million) for all-electric school buses, replacing diesel buses.
    • 65 percent ($70.6 million) to off-road projects, such as locomotives, ferries and tugs.
    • 5 percent ($5.4 million) for IEPA administrative expenses.


Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the IEPA plan does not commit a single dollar to electric vehicle infrastructure. She said the mitigation plan puts short-term gains at the forefront.

“IEPA does not appear to have considered long-term benefits,” Mudd said.

She said by focusing so much money on off-road projects, the IEPA is missing the “immense on-road needs of urban transit riders in Chicago, Metro East and Downstate Illinois.”

“Many of our most vulnerable residents live in the state’s ozone non-attainment areas — Chicago and Metro East,” Mudd said. “IEPA has ignored, predominantly, their transit needs.”


PRESS RELEASE: Illinois Senate Hearing Spotlights Weaknesses of Illinois EPA’s $108 Million VW Settlement Proposal Crafted Behind Closed Doors


April 6, 2018


 Illinois Senate Hearing Spotlights Weaknesses of Illinois EPA’s $108 Million Volkswagen Settlement Proposal Crafted Behind Closed Doors

Public health & environmental groups call for greater transparency in deciding how VW funds are allocated  

CHICAGO – A Friday Illinois Senate Committee hearing on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s $108 million Volkswagen settlement proposal highlighted speakers who emphasized the need for greater transparency and called for dramatic changes for how those funds should be spent.

The Senate Environment and Conservation Committee convened a hearing in Chicago that featured public health and environmental groups urging more of the VW funds in IEPA’s draft proposal be allocated to projects that provide the greatest long-term public health benefits.   Speakers criticized IEPA for failing to hold a single public meeting and instead conducting meetings behind closed doors.

“Illinois EPA’s plan demonstrates the flaws of drafting without public input,” said Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The draft plan misses the opportunity of tapping $108 million to jumpstart the transition to a clean transportation and air quality future for Illinois.”

“By crafting a secret plan behind closed doors with no public hearings, Illinois EPA failed to address long-term health threats from climate change,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Environmental Health Director for Respiratory Health Association. “Zero-emission transportation for Illinois’ school children and people using bus transit should have been given top priority in spending VW funds. We need electric vehicles to both eliminate smog and soot and reduce health threats from an increasingly unstable climate.”

Senators on the committee recently sponsored two separate bills targeting IEPA’s VW planning process. Sen. Cristina Castro introduced a bill that calls for the state agency to hold public meetings and include more participants in drafting the plan. Sen. Heather Steans’ bill requires more electric vehicles to be included in the VW plan.

One bright spot in the plan is a $10 million carve-out for electric school buses. Children are among our most vulnerable population. Every day more than a million Illinois public school students ride on polluting diesel buses and investing in zero-emission school buses is a wise use of VW funds.

Public health and environmental advocates also recommended IEPA designate fewer dollars for off-road vehicles and allocate greater sums for municipal transit buses and electric vehicle charging stations that can improve public health for more people in the state.

“The public was harmed by VW’s emission deception,” said Jen Walling, executive director at the Illinois Environmental Council. “The public should have had a chance to weigh in on the VW settlement funds prior to the draft plan being released. We are grateful to the Senate Environment committee for beginning a public, open conversation on this topic.”

Groups advocating for IEPA to devise a better VW plan include: Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Respiratory Health Association, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Lung Association.

Volkswagen was ordered to set aside billions in mitigation settlement funds after installing devices in diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. that cheated federal emissions testing.

The public is encouraged to submit comments to about how VW funds should be spent. The deadline for submitting comments is April 20.





CBS Sacramento: Trump EPA Expected To Roll Back Gas Mileage Standards

March 30, 2018

Trump EPA Expected To Roll Back Gas Mileage Standards

By The Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) – The Trump administration is expected to announce that it will roll back automobile gas mileage and pollution standards that were a pillar in the Obama administration’s plans to combat climate change.

It’s not clear whether the announcement will include a specific number, but current regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency require the fleet of new vehicles to get 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving by 2025. That’s about 10 mpg over the existing standard.

Environmental groups, who predict increased greenhouse gas emissions and more gasoline consumption if the standards are relaxed, say the announcement could come Tuesday at a Virginia car dealership. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email Friday that the standards are still being reviewed.

Any change is likely to set up a lengthy legal showdown with California, which currently has the power to set its own pollution and gas mileage standards and doesn’t want them to change. About a dozen other states follow California’s rules, and together they account for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in the US. Currently the federal and California standards are the same.

Automakers have lobbied to revisit the requirements, saying they’ll have trouble reaching them because people are buying bigger vehicles due to low gas prices. They say the standards will cost the industry billions of dollars and raise vehicle prices due to the cost of developing technology needed to raise mileage.

When the standards were first proposed, the government predicted that two-thirds of new vehicles sold would be cars, with the rest trucks and SUVs, said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Now the reverse is true, she said.

Still, environmental groups say the standards save money at the pump, and the technology is available for the industry to comply.

They also say burning more gasoline will put people’s health at risk.

“The American public overwhelmingly supports strong vehicle standards because they cut the cost of driving, reduce air pollution, and combat climate change,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project.

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are involved in setting the standards, which would cover the years 2022 through 2025.

Some conservative groups are pressing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to revoke a waiver that allows California to set its own rules. They say California shouldn’t be allowed to set policy for the rest of the nation. Pruitt has publicly questioned the veracity of evidence complied by climate scientists, including those in his own agency, that global warming is overwhelmingly caused by man-made carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

If the waiver is revoked, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the state will resist. “What we’re doing to protect California’s environment isn’t just good for our communities – it’s good for the country,” he said in a statement. “We’re not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but when they threaten our values, we’re ready.”

Getting rid of the waiver or having two gas mileage and pollution requirements presents a huge dilemma for automakers: while they would like to avoid fines for failing to meet the standards, they also want the expense of building two versions of cars and trucks, one for the California-led states and another for the rest of the country.

Mark Reuss, a General Motors’ product development chief, said in a recent interview that he would rather have a single nationwide standard, even if it stays the same. He called two standards “just waste,” because they would require different vehicle equipment and costly additional engineering. “I want one good one,” he said. “I could focus all my engineers on one.”

Automakers agreed to the standards in 2012, but lobbied for and received a midterm review in 2018 to account for changes in market conditions. In the waning days of the Obama presidency, the EPA did the review and proclaimed that the standards have enough flexibility and the technology is available to meet them.

Janet McCabe, who was acting assistant EPA administrator under Obama when the review was done, said Friday it will take a couple years for the EPA to propose new rules, gather public comment and finalize any changes. Any rollback would likely bring legal challenges, forcing Pruitt’s EPA to defend the science behind the changes.

“This would all take a long time,” said McCabe, now a senior fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

In the meantime, automakers have to proceed with plans for new cars and trucks under the current gas mileage requirements because it takes years to develop vehicles.


PRESS RELEASE: US EPA’s Repeat Midterm Review of Clean Car Standards is Misguided and Flawed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             Contact: Judith Nemes

April 2, 2018                                                                           (312) 795-3706

US EPA’s Repeat Midterm Review of Clean Car Standards is Misguided and Flawed

Keeping the common sense clean car standards will save people money at the gas pump, reduce  pollution, and advance America’s technological innovation leadership and global competitiveness




The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that its pollution reduction standards for vehicle Model Years 2022-2025 in coordination with U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) fuel economy standards are no longer “appropriate.” In response, ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner said:

“The EPA’s misguided decision threatens to shift America into reverse and put U.S. automakers behind in the global competition for cleaner, more fuel efficient cars. The standards that EPA and DOT issued in 2012 were grounded in extensive analysis and remain sound.

“Weakening the standards will undermine innovation and the American auto industry’s competitiveness, stall job creation in the Midwest and lead to more trips to the gas pump for many Americans. The Pruitt EPA should have confirmed the work that US EPA completed in 2017 and move forward with US DOT to ensure that standards stay strong through 2025.”



EPA Poised to Slam on Brakes when it Comes to Clean Car Standards

by Ann Mesnikoff

Does keeping 6 billion metric tons of dangerous carbon pollution out of the atmosphere while saving up to $122 billion at the pump sound good to you? If you answered yes then you are in the 70% majority of voters who want the EPA to leave current clean car standards in place!

However, Trump’s EPA is poised to slam on the brakes and hit reverse on clean car standards issuing a misguided decision to weaken them. Rather than standing up to protect public health and the environment while delivering important savings for consumers, the EPA is succumbing to auto industry pressure.

Why is the EPA making this decision now? Back in 2012, EPA jointly issued clean car standards with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for vehicles through 2025. The auto industry, labor, public health and environmental groups all supported these standards. With California’s agreement, they constituted a single national program for vehicle pollution and fuel economy.

Part of that agreement, however, was that EPA would do a midterm evaluation to see if the standards for the later years of the program were still “appropriate.” Here’s the thing, EPA did a midterm evaluation. Over several years EPA took a thorough look at how automakers were doing in complying with standards and what technologies they could use going forward. This review included many peer-reviewed papers, conferences, and significant engagement with the industry itself. In January of 2017 EPA concluded that automakers had technologies and pathways to meeting the standards through 2025 at even lower costs than predicted. EPA also found the standards were delivering benefits to consumers and the environment all while vehicles sales were on the rise.

So what changed since EPA’s first decision to keep standards strong? An election.

The auto industry ramped up lobbying for weaker standards everywhere it could and the EPA and DOT listened. Earlier this month, the Auto Alliance that represents much of the auto industry, went so far as to file a document with DOT that questions climate science and the health impacts of auto pollution. Rather than focusing on putting better engines, transmissions and light-weight high strength materials to work to meet clean car standards, the auto industry is undermining science.

Not only are clean car standards good for our pocketbooks, the environment and public health, they are driving investment and jobs in the auto industry across the Midwest. According to the BlueGreen Alliance, “since 2008 U.S. automakers invested $63.8 billion in facilities across the country, completing 258 investments at 100 factories, with an additional $12.4 billion in investments at 42 facilities promised by 2020.” Another report of auto industry suppliers found that across the Midwest there are a total of 151,714 jobs in 480 facilities associated with making fuel efficient vehicles. Three states – Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio – top the list with the most jobs and facilities. Yet another report, looking into the future, found that if the standards are left in place, they will create more than 100,000 jobs in 2025 and more than 250,000 in 2025 – across the industry and beyond. The savings and benefits will even boost the U.S. gross domestic product more than $13 billion in 2025 and $16 billion in 2035.

Given all of this investment and jobs, it’s not surprising that the suppliers of advanced, clean car technologies want to keep standards strong! In fact,  a recent survey of suppliers, showed 80% want the current 2021-2025 standards to be maintained or strengthened!

The EPA’s actions run contrary to the analysis it already did and undermine a fully supported finding that clean car standards should stay in place. Stay tuned for an opportunity to tell EPA to stop the rollback and keep strong standards in place!

PRESS RELEASE: Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors


Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Promotes Real Investments, Not Smoke & Mirrors

 Proposal respects need for maintaining environmental laws in planning process




In response to the Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan proposal released today:

“America’s infrastructure needs modernizing and the Senate Democrats’ plan recognizes the only way to get there is with real investments – not smoke and mirrors,” Learner said. “The Senate Democrats’ infrastructure plan offers a roadmap without eviscerating environmental laws.”

“Smart infrastructure investments including modern higher-speed passenger rail and transit for better mobility and water system improvements are both needed to advance healthier clean air and safe clean drinking water for all,” Learner said. “This is a real opportunity for achieving job creation and environmental progress together.”






EPA Should Keep Super Dirty Diesels Off the Road

By Ann Mesnikoff

Most everyone would agree that letting super dirty diesel trucks with old engines inside new truck bodies belch out dramatic amounts of pollution that causes smog is a bad idea – that’s everyone except for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headed up by Administrator Scott Pruitt. The EPA proposed to repeal standards for these trucks last year. But, there’s been a new development in this dirty tale.

The New York Times recently ran a compelling story on “How $225,000 can help secure a pollution loophole at Trump’s EPA.” The loophole in question is one that would allow an unlimited number of super polluting diesel “glider” trucks on our highways and in our cities. These “gliders” are new truck bodies with dirty old engines inside. The story covered how the leading glider maker, Fitzgerald, had paid for a Tennessee Technological Institute study that would show gliders really aren’t all that dirty. Fitzgerald then used that study to push EPA to withdraw its standards. Shortly after the story ran, Tennessee Tech withdrew that flawed study.

The question now is: what will EPA do now that a key rationale for repealing standards has been exposed and withdrawn?
Back in 2016, the EPA (under President Obama) estimated that setting standards for dirty glider trucks would prevent up to 1,600 premature deaths over the lifetime of the trucks sold in 2017 alone (1). The Trump EPA is now in the process of repealing those standards for these super polluters. The New York Times story makes clear that “the survival of this loophole is a story of money, politics and suspected academic misconduct, according to interviews and government and private documents, and has been facilitated by Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has staked out positions in environmental fights that benefit the Trump administration’s corporate backers.”

ELPC submitted comments to EPA back in December opposing the repeal of essential air pollution standards for gliders. Here are a few key points from our comments (our full comments can be found here).

Midwestern states experience some of the most intense freight truck traffic in the country. We are ground zero for much of the nation’s manufacturing and agricultural activities, and that means millions of truck miles on our highways and in our densely populated urban areas. Regionally, the Midwest leads in terms of freight traffic too—according to the US Census, 28% of all truck traffic in the US flows through the Midwest (2).

We pointed out that because of all this truck traffic Midwesterners are likely to be disproportionately affected by excess emissions from dirty diesel gliders. Across the Midwest, cities are struggling with air quality; high asthma rates and other health consequences remain a persistent concern. In fact, several Midwest cities — Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati– are cities where air quality does not meet the 2015 ozone health standard. These cities can’t afford to have an unlimited number of super polluting trucks running through them. And, these trucks don’t emit just a little more pollution – EPA’s own tests show they emit 43 times higher NOx emissions and 55 times higher PM emissions than comparable model year 2014 and 2015 vehicles (3).

We concluded our comments by noting clean air is essential to life and health.

The New York Times told a story about how easy it was for one company to buy itself out of an essential air quality safeguard and threaten the health of Midwesterners and all Americans. EPA should stop its repeal of this rule and leave the common sense public health safeguards alone.


[1] Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles – Phase 2 Response to Comments for Joint Rulemaking  p. 1965


[3] HD Chassis Glider Final Report 11202017 p. 3.

PRESS RELEASE: Illinois EPA VW Settlement Plan Drafted Without Promised Public Hearings


Illinois Environmental Protection Agency VW Settlement Plan Drafted Without Promised Public Hearings

 Plan Fails to Maximize Zero Emission Transportation

In response to the release today by the Illinois EPA of a draft plan for the use of $108 million allotted to the State of Illinois under the Volkswagen cheating scandal, environmental and public health groups issued the following statement:

“In May 2017, environmental and public health groups met with IEPA Director Alec Messina to urge transparency and public engagement in the preparation of the state’s VW mitigation plan. Director Messina assured us the agency would hold 12 public hearings across the state. Unfortunately, not a single meeting has been held. Instead, we have a plan that was developed behind closed doors,” said Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for Illinois to invest $108 million in clean transportation infrastructure, but we are very concerned about the lack of transparency and believe the agency’s plan fails to maximize opportunities to benefit public health and cleaner air. We prefer the public hearing and allocation strategies outlined in legislation that has been introduced in Springfield. As opposed to IEPA’s secretive process thus far, the proposed legislation would fully involve the public and immediately jump start the electrification of the transportation sector.”

Brian Urbaszewski, Director, Environmental Health at Respiratory Health Association, stated:Diesel pollution triggers asthma attacks and increases cardiovascular disease; it puts seniors in the hospital and causes children to miss school days because they are home sick. With clean electric vehicles including cars, school buses and transit buses already on the roads, it’s extremely disappointing the state isn’t maximizing the opportunity to transition to such clean vehicles that would improve the health of everyone. Illinois should focus on fully committing to non-polluting electric vehicle solutions.”

“With $108 million on the table, Illinois is positioned to dramatically increase its electric vehicle infrastructure and accelerate the viability of electric vehicles in our state. But this proposal diminishes that opportunity,” said Toba Pearlman, Clean Energy Advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We strongly urge the agency to reconsider and seize this opportunity.”

Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said: “The one bright spot in the plan is IEPA’s commitment to electric school buses that protect children. 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.”

IEC’s Walling added: “In addition to the lack of a public process, the IEPA plan does not do enough to create the greatest long-term benefits and protect those most vulnerable.”

Lead sponsors of legislation in Springfield that would require public input in the process and that would require the funding to advance the electrification of transportation also responded to the proposal.

“The Volkswagen settlement presents a great opportunity for Illinois to improve our transportation infrastructure, especially for transit and electric vehicles. For Illinois to make the most of this opportunity, it is essential that all stakeholders are allowed to provide meaningful input into how these funds are spent, and that there is a transparent process for public engagement,” said State Sen. Cristina Castro (D-Elgin). “It’s for these reasons, that I am proud to sponsor SB3103, which would require the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to establish a task force that  includes all stakeholders in development of the state’s mitigation plan.”

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) also called for a plan that maximizes investment in electric vehicle infrastructure.

“While we cannot undo the harm done by the added pollution Volkswagen knowingly permitted, this settlement provides Illinois with an opportunity to improve public health by reducing pollution going forward,” Sen. Steans said. “SB3055 would direct the maximum allowable amount of money under the terms of the settlement to electric vehicle charging stations. Additional investments in electric buses for public schools and electric fleets for municipalities will make our air cleaner by replacing polluting vehicles with non-emitting ones immediately, and make it easier for Illinoisans to switch to electric vehicles in the long term.”

“The crimes committed by Volkswagen caused real harm to Illinois drivers and to our air quality, and the public deserves an opportunity to guide how these settlement dollars are invested for maximum public benefit by electrifying our transportation system,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.  “Illinois EPA’s proposal to turn a deaf ear to public input and subsidize fossil fuels with these dollars is decidedly un-electrifying.”


Chicago Tribune: Who Gets the VW Money?

Who Gets the VW Money?
By Mary Wisniewski

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a first-round proposal on Monday about how to spend $108.7 million from a national settlement Volkswagen reached with the U.S. government over the German automaker’s emissions scandal — and it’s already raising eyebrows.

That’s according to environmental advocates, though the timing could not immediately be confirmed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which has the job of putting a plan together and distributing the funds. Those who’ve been briefed on the so-called draft proposal say they’re not too happy, because the agency is not holding public hearings to discuss how the money should be spent, like other Midwestern states have done.

“People in Illinois were harmed by the pollution that resulted in the VW settlement,” said Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, who learned about the plan from IEPA Director Alec Messina last week. “By taking away the opportunity for people to comment in public hearings, it takes away their chance to participate and say how they should be paid back for what was done to their health and the environment.”

VW agreed to pay more than $15 billion in settlements after admitting to installing secret software that allowed U.S. vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution. Some of that money is going to states for clean-air programs.

Environmental groups want 15 percent of Illinois’ share of the money, or about $16.3 million, to go to plug-in charging stations for electric vehicles. They want the rest to go toward replacing diesel school and public transit buses with electric versions, to reduce diesel pollution.

But the IEPA instead plans to spend up to 15 percent of the money on administrative costs, and most of the rest on “off-road” technology, Walling said. This could mean rail or boats. A small percentage of the total could go to electric school buses, Walling said.

Walling said she was concerned that some money will go to private interests and/or replacing older diesel vehicle engines with newer ones. While newer engines would be less polluting, this would not cut nearly as much diesel pollution as buying electric buses and providing electric charging infrastructure, advocates argue.

“It provides no structural kick in the pants,” said Allen Grosboll, legislative director for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, an advocacy group. He said Messina told environmental groups last May that the agency would have public hearings around the state.

But Walling now says there’s no commitment to public hearings.

Other states have gathered public comments and held hearings for more than a year and are close to finalizing their plans — Minnesota, for example, had 13 public hearings, Environmental Law and Policy Center officials said.

Kim Biggs, spokeswoman with the Illinois EPA, countered that the agency conducted a “very open process,” which has included meeting with interested parties upon request. She said the agency also will be doing a survey to get feedback.

“The agency has provided for a slightly different approach than some other states all of whom vary in approach,” Biggs said.

Once the IEPA submits its final plan, it can start accessing settlement money in 30 days, and it can be spent within 10 years, said Policy Center representatives.


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