The Maryland Volkswagen Mitigation Plan: $2.5 Million in Awards and More Opportunities to Come


Planning Assistance in Action

by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Development and Infrastructure Planner
with Tim Shepherd, MDE, Division Chief, Mobile Sources Control Program, MDE

Whether or not we are Volkswagen owners, most of us will remember the VW emissions scandal – sometimes called “dieselgate” – that was revealed to the world a little more than four years ago. Fewer will be able to recall, however, what occurred once the publicity died down and the dust settled after the numerous lawsuits that followed.

In 2014 the California Air Resources Board (CARB) noticed significant differences in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions between European and U.S. models of VW’s diesel vehicles. Researchers for CARB identified that emissions were considerably lower during regulatory testing than they were during real-world driving. In response to the discovery, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) found Volkswagen to be in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2015 and they, and regulators around the world, began to investigate.

Volkswagen had subverted the emission controls on many of their turbocharged direct injection (TDI) “clean diesel” engines. They were programmed to perform properly during testing conditions but, when on the road, they reverted to lower levels of emission controls. These evasive technologies, known as “defeat devices”were developed because Volkswagen was unable to meet both the regulatory emissions standards and customer-anticipated mileage performance at the same time; typically, as emission controls are increased, mileage performance decreases.

With the defeat devices, VW diesel engines were found to have emitted as much as 40 times the amount of NOx on the road as was released during testing. Thus, not only were individual VW customers defrauded by false claims that their vehicles were greener or more environmentally-friendly, but also the entire population was subjected to higher levels of pollutants that are hazardous to human health, add to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and contribute to global climate change.

How big was this problem and what has been the impact on Maryland? Between 2009 and 2016, approximately 11 million VW diesel vehicles with defeat devices were sold worldwide, 500,000 of which were sold in the U.S., and approximately 16,000 were sold in Maryland. As a result, VW agreed to an unprecedented settlement of more than $2.7 billion with the U.S. Department of Justice via consent decree, with $75.7 million awarded to Maryland.

In February 2019, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), in conjunction with the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), launched the Maryland Volkswagen Mitigation Plan. In a press release, MDE explained that the plan’s top priority is deploying electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and replacing “old, dirty diesel engines with new, cleaner technology.” The plan outlines how the money is to be used, specifically describing  the mitigation plan as investing “in transportation strategies and projects to improve the quality of the air that Marylanders breathe.”

Of the nearly $76 million, the mitigation plan specifies that the funds are to be divided among four major categories: 

  • Electric Vehicle Infrastructure – $11.3 million 
  • Private Sector and Federal Government Projects – $28.5 million; 
  • Local Governments and Communities – $15.6 million; 
  • State Agency Projects – $19.2 million

In addition, approximately $1 million is set aside for administrative costs to implement the plan. 

As the lead organization handling the disbursement of these funds, MDE recently awarded nearly $2.5 million of the $15.6 million specified by the plan for projects/programs within the Local Governments and Communities category. The first of these programs, identified as a top priority by MDE, is School Bus Replacement. Replacing diesel-powered school buses addresses a particularly thorny problem because the populations exposed to their emissions are more vulnerable to exposure to hazardous substances. As described in our article on the Idle Free Maryland program featured in last month’s edition of this newsletter, children are far more susceptible to the negative health effects of air pollution than adults.

The first award recipients were four Maryland county governments: Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties received a combined $2.5 million to replace a total of 28 diesel powered school buses with six electric and 22 propane-powered buses. The total amount available for replacing school buses is close to $4.6 million, with more than $2 million remaining for future projects.

MDE is currently reviewing local government applications received for diesel-powered Transit Bus Replacement. The department anticipates announcing recipients for the roughly $5.5 million earmarked for transit vehicles after the first of the year.

In early 2020, the department will also begin reviewing applications in the Private Sector and Federal Government category. Specifically, it will consider applications for Freedom Fleet Vouchers. This program will be managed in a similar fashion to the existing Freedom Fleet Voucher Program, which is run by the MEA. Freedom Fleet refers to privately-owned diesel fleet vehicles that may be eligible for replacement by electric or cleaner-burning alternative fuels such as propane or natural gas. The plan sets aside $5 million for the program, and MDE expects to announce Freedom Fleet awards this winter. Tim Shepherd, with the Mobile Sources Control Program at MDE, notes that there could be funding left in this category after the initial round of awards, creating the possibility of a second round of applications later in the coming year. 

Last but not least, the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure category, which includes both public and private charging stations, will be open for its first round of applications beginning in spring 2020. With EV sales still making up only around 1 percent of all vehicles sold in Maryland – at present around 21,000 electric models compared to 4 million gasoline-powered cars – there is a need for expanding the necessary infrastructure to increase their numbers across the state.

As the mitigation plan states, “In the past few years, MEA has … awarded over $3.3 million to help install 77 DC Fast Chargers at 46 locations, leveraging over $4.5 million in private investment. In the same manner, matching private funds could be leveraged to install 2,000 charging stations using the full $11.3 million. This proposed project is based on the fact that in order to meet the State’s 2020 electric vehicle goals, an additional 2,000 charging stations will be needed at workplaces and other public sites located along the corridors (at a cost of approximately $24 million).”

For more information on remaining funding opportunities through the Volkswagen Mitigation Plan, contact Tim Shepherd, Division Chief, Mobile Sources Control Program, MDE at tim.shepherd@maryland.gov or 410-537-3236. Be sure to check back frequently and follow Planning Practice Monthly for information regarding application deadlines and future award announcements.

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