April 06, 2018
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 [email protected] about how VW funds should be spent. The deadline for submitting comments is April 20.