Midwest Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Investment, the Silver Lining of the VW Emissions Scandal

The litigation surrounding Volkswagen’s emission cheating scandal has come to an end and the details of the settlement are out. The German automaker has agreed to a $14.7 billion settlement, which makes this the largest auto company settlement in U.S. history. While most of the settlement is targeted at reimbursing owners of VW diesel vehicles to replace the emitting vehicles, $2 billion of that was set-aside for electric vehicle infrastructure and education projects. An additional $2.7 billion will be distributed to states for emission mitigation projects that include the replacement of diesel vehicles as well as additional infrastructure investments.

The Ecology Center worked with its partners in a new Charge Up Midwest Campaign to encourage VW to give particular attention to the Midwest region when making its investment plans. The Midwest is home to more than one-fifth of the nation’s population and is ripe with opportunity for EV expansion. There are strong existing relationships between Midwest environmental advocates and utility companies on the development of charging infrastructure and many other programs aimed towards market acceleration. At the crossroads of America, the Midwest must play an integral role in any highway corridor DC Fast Charging network and with numerous thriving metro areas, the Midwest is a prime candidate for deploying charging stations at multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, and disadvantaged communities. Along with our Midwest allies, we urged VW to create a coordinated, transparent program to develop EV infrastructure, education, and outreach programs that will mitigate air pollution, safeguard our climate, and strengthen our economy.

The Ecology Center also worked with national partners including the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and others to ensure that funds from the settlement are used wisely. Our recommendations to VW, contained in a letter, fell into the following four categories:  Investments should: 1) consider environmental impact, 2) plan strategically based on existing infrastructure, 3) focus on economic benefit, and 4) promote transparency and engagement with existing organizations dedicated to electric vehicle policy.  

Environmental Impact

It is important that VW prioritizes investments in areas that are disproportionately exposed to air pollution. Consideration should be given to disadvantaged and low-income communities that are impacted by air pollution at much higher rates. In addition, VW should focus on supporting charging technology with load management capabilities in order to keep air pollution from increasing. For example, as EV market share increases owners should be incentivized to charge their vehicles when the grid is underused, like overnight. Owners could also be directed to charge their vehicles at times when the sun is shining or wind is blowing and renewable energy input is high. This will keep the air cleaner and utility bills low.

Infrastructure

Experts have identified particular areas that are key to accelerating EV adoption, such as apartments, condominiums, workplaces, and highway corridors. VW should focus on the expansion of infrastructure in these areas while keeping in mind existing and planned investments by third parties, utilities, or governments.

Economic

Investments in infrastructure should focus on continuing to keep costs low and incentivizing consumers to purchase electric vehicles. VW should seek opportunities to ensure that EV drivers are not overpaying at the plug.

Transparency and engagement with dedicated organizations

VW must make this process transparent by sharing all third-party proposals and allowing for meaningful public input. They should reach out to organizations already working in communities to promote EVs to help create an effective public education plan.

VW’s investment plan is due to be submitted on February 22, 2017. Look for more updates from the Ecology Center as they come, we will make sure to keep you updated at each step!

Published on January 30, 2017