By Donna Griffin
Chapter Climate Team
For seven years, carmaker Volkswagen sold its turbocharged direct injection as a “clean diesel” that met U.S. vehicle emissions standards. But Volkswagen had a dirty secret — it had intentionally programmed the computer systems in this engine to disable emission controls under normal use and to turn on emission controls only when the vehicle was being tested. Without pollution control, these vehicles belched out up to 40 times the standard for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) as they cruised New Mexico highways.
In 2015, the EPA sued VW. In 2016, the Department of Justice settled the EPA claims against the German automaker, requiring VW to invest $2.9 billion in a trust to fund projects that reduce diesel emissions. New Mexico’s share of the fund is $18 million.
The consent decree required each state to get a “Beneficiary Mitigation Plan” approved. The New Mexico Environment Department prepared the draft plan in April and provided a comment period.
The draft plan called for 15% of the funds to be spent on electric-vehicle infrastructure and 70% to be spent on replacing or retrofitting older diesel heavy-duty vehicles such as solid-waste trucks and school buses with new diesel engines. The Environment Department reasoned that the EPA-revised emission standards for diesel after 2007 ensured that newer diesel engines will be less polluting. The plan calls for 44 new diesel school buses and 4 electric school buses.
The Rio Grande Chapter commented on the draft plan, noting that the fund was intended to support programs that mitigate and reduce emissions of NOx. To maximize the effect of the fund, the Chapter strongly recommended that the Environment Department shift its goal in the draft plan to focus on funding projects that replace older diesel-fueled engines with electric powertrains. Diesel engines should not be replaced with diesel engines as the draft plan proposed, because, though “cleaner,” the new diesels still emit NOx and other pollutants and burn climate-damaging fossil fuels.
The Rio Grande Chapter joined a number of organizations asking that the Environment Department focus on projects that further electrification of transportation in New Mexico and suggested that the fund should prioritize the purchase of electric buses, focusing on school buses to protect the health of New Mexico’s children.