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Maximize Equity in VW Air Pollution Investments


Washington State is eligible to receive $112.7 million from the car company Volkswagen to reduce air pollution as part of a settlement for their violations of the federal Clean Air Act.  The money the State receives is in addition to compensation Volkswagen must pay to individual car owners and for electric vehicle infrastructure nationally.

Equitable use of funds from the VW settlement is one of Front and Centered legislative priorities.  In partnership with clean air, climate, and transportation allies, we are calling on legislators to ensure the funding is additional, going beyond what’s on the books, and is effectively aimed at health, climate, and economic benefits for communities disproportionately impacted by fossil fuel pollution.

While the legislature may weigh-in, the Department of Ecology is actively drafting a plan to apply for the funding, and currently seeking feedback on their draft principles (survey open till 5pm March 23rd).  Front and Centered was pleased to see an emphasis on public health, air quality, and benefits for highly impacted communities in Ecology’s draft principles. The VW settlement requires the State to describe “…how the Beneficiary will consider the potential beneficial impact of the selected Eligible Mitigation Actions on air quality in areas that bear a disproportionate share of the air pollution burden within its jurisdiction.” Front and Centered recommendations, also submitted to the Department of Ecology by Steering Committee, offer opportunities to strengthen the principles effectiveness in creating benefits for disproportionately impacted communities.

We recommend the funding plan aim to maximize health, climate, and economic benefits through NOx mitigation. Doing this requires attention to the distribution of emissions reductions with regard to pollution and exposure and vulnerability, climate impacts, and economic barriers. Reducing NOx emissions through investments in communities disproportionately impacted creates more opportunity for benefits. We recommend the projects funded should strive to achieve multiple benefits. In addition, we recommend:

  • All projects maximize air quality and health improvement, which is the primary negative impact of VW’s illegal actions.
  • Ranking the principles, with an emphasis on comparing the relative benefits of proposals on disproportionately impacted communities.
  • Adding project priorities for scale (number of people x amount of benefit) and for economic opportunity. Economic opportunity implies that the project creates economic value in low-resource entities, rather than high-resource entities that could more easily afford to switch to lower emitting technology.

Finally, highly impacted or disproportionately impacted communities should be defined in the plan as an area that the Department of Health has determined is likely to bear a disproportionate burden of public health and economic risks from environmental pollution. In practice, Ecology can use the Department of Health’s Washington Tracking Network tool in collaboration with regional air agencies to identify the areas with the highest levels of NOx exposure. Together these factors point to communities with cumulative, disproportionate burdens from NOx pollution, and identify where to prioritize investments.

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