Texas’ VW emissions settlement: $209M. Austin’s cut: $0.


Highlights

Under state proposal, money is directed to parts of the state that historically have dirtier air.

Austin had more of the polluting Volkswagen autos, in relation to population, than those areas.

state proposal to divvy up millions of dollars related to a Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal almost completely shuts out Austin — even though Austinites purchased more of the compromised Volkswagens, as a percentage of population, than other parts of Texas.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in a draft plan published this week that it will release the lion’s share of Volkswagen pollution mitigation money — $170 million — to San Antonio; the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex; Houston, Galveston and Brazoria; El Paso; and the Beaumont-Port Arthur area.

RELATED: With Volkswagen millions at stake, what share will Austin get?

The money could be used for a range of air quality improvement measures, such as upgrading school buses or converting municipal fleets to electric vehicles.

But zero dollars go to the greater Austin metro area, even though far more of the vehicles were operated here — 2.39 vehicles per 1,000 residents — than in the areas that are earmarked to receive the money — 1.21 vehicles per 1,000 residents, on average.

State environmental officials say they’re directing money to areas that have the dirtiest air. All the areas are hovering near or above federal smog limits. These are areas “most likely to see the greatest benefit” of an influx of the Volkswagen money, said Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for TCEQ.

An official with the Capital Area Council of Governments, a coalition of Austin-area governments that works to improve air quality, among other things, said he was disappointed with the proposal.

“We understand the need to prioritize the use of these funds to have the maximum benefit for the people of the state,” said Andrew Hoekzema, director of regional services at the coalition. “But we’re disappointed TCEQ has not proposed any of the funding come to the fourth largest metro area in the state.”

He said that smog figures logged this summer suggested Austin may run afoul of federal clean air rules — and that, by some measures, air quality is growing worse here than in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area.

The current federal smog standard is 70 parts per billion; various parts of Central Texas have had 10 days in 2018 during which smog was counted at more than 70 parts per billion.

The question of how the money is allocated gets at the heart of the purpose of the Texas Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, as it’s officially known.

Texas is getting $209 million of a nearly $3 billion emissions mitigation settlement with the auto company, reached after Volkswagen was sued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California in 2016.

In the lawsuit, the federal agency and California alleged that even as Volkswagen promoted itself as a green company, it had installed devices on roughly 590,000 of its light-duty diesel vehicles designed to game pollution tests. The devices caused the emissions control system of those vehicles to perform differently during testing than during normal driving.

In normal use, the vehicles spewed nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, above federal standards.

Texas’ share of the mitigation money was based on the number of affected vehicles registered within its boundaries. Texas, according to documents, had 40,444 of the vehicles, including more than 5,000 in the greater Austin area.

The offending Volkswagens were emitting as much as 40 times the pollution as other sedans and light-duty vehicles in the same model year.

Under the TCEQ proposal, as much as $31 million of the settlement would be spent on electric charging stations, which could be placed anywhere in the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated he might be disinclined to direct money toward areas that do not chronically fail federal air standards.

In 2017, the governor announced a line-item veto of $6 million appropriated for air quality programs in Austin, Waco, El Paso, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Granbury, Killeen-Temple, Longview-Tyler-Marshall, San Antonio and Victoria — parts of the state that have managed to narrowly meet federal clean air standards.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

“Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state” — that is, areas of the state that failed clean air standards — “so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Abbott said.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

The commissioner most closely involved with the Volkswagen draft plan — Jon Niermann — was appointed by Abbott to the agency in 2015. Niermann was not available for comment on Thursday.

With few heavily polluting industries in Central Texas, Austin has stayed just this side of federal smog standards. But it has long labored to keep the area clean. Austin-area drivers spend roughly $20 million a year on vehicle inspections and repairs to ratchet down smog levels.

About three-fourths of the money for those efforts comes through the $16 vehicle emissions inspection that motorists of Travis and Williamson counties pay for annually. The rest comes out of motorists’ pockets — a new air filter to pass inspection, for example, is covered by the driver.

The federal smog standards are meant to reduce premature deaths, asthma, bronchitis, hospital visits and days when people miss work or school.

The state environmental agency will take comments for the next 60 days on the proposal.

The draft “is a mixed bag,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of environmental group Public Citizen, “with both encouraging and confounding elements.”

While he praised the set-aside for electric vehicle infrastructure, Shelley called the geographic allocations “lopsided.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Blood pressure guidelines changed, and that wasn’t good for this woman’s mother
Blood pressure guidelines changed, and that wasn’t good for this woman’s mother

Last summer, during a routine visit by my 92-year-old mother to a cardiologist for a pacemaker check, her systolic blood pressure registered a dangerously high 220, over 94, a reading that sent her - and me - on a difficult journey through changing recommendations about blood pressure goals.    Her pressure had been 150 - that's the systolic...
Funeral arrangements set for former Austin Bishop John McCarthy
Funeral arrangements set for former Austin Bishop John McCarthy

A funeral Mass and burial for retired Austin Diocese Bishop John McCarthy will take place Friday afternoon in Round Rock. McCarthy, who led the Catholic Diocese of Austin for 15 years and was known for interreligious work and dedication to the poor, died Saturday at his home at the age of 88, church officials announced Sunday. There will be a public...
Whataburger, meet Pluckers. This Twitter user’s suggestion made Texans miss something they never even had
Whataburger, meet Pluckers. This Twitter user’s suggestion made Texans miss something they never even had

Some hypotheticals aren’t meant to remain so. Some are meant to be eaten. Twitter user @Ob36 took to the site last week to suggest a collaboration: Pluckers, meet Whataburger. More specifically the proposition included a Pluckers dipping sauce to be sold at Whataburger, and a Whataburger hamburger to be sold at Pluckers: Pluckers responded to...
Man charged in theft of $192,800 from Alabama casino
Man charged in theft of $192,800 from Alabama casino

A federal judge on Friday denied bond for one man and dismissed charges against another man accused of robbing $192,800 from an Alabama casino last week, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. >> Read more trending news  Timothy Dean Pettiway and Jory D’Michael Travunn Dumas were arrested Tuesday after they were accused of stealing...
Driver, 28, killed after crashing into traffic light pole in New Braunfels
Driver, 28, killed after crashing into traffic light pole in New Braunfels

A 28-year-old woman was killed early Monday when the pickup she was driving slammed into the metal pole of a traffic light in New Braunfels, police said. The driver, Liliana Fraire of Guadalupe County, crashed in the intersection of FM 725 and South Bank Boulevard shortly before 2:20 a.m., authorities said in a statement. Fraire had been driving south...
More Stories