By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs
In December of 2016, the Ohio EPA began accepting comments on the use of the anticipated $75 million the state of Ohio expects to receive as part of the settlement in the Volkswagen Clean Air Act civil settlement. While a Trustee was appointed by the court earlier this year, there are still ongoing negotiations with the court and parties to the settlement. This has caused the Trust Effective Date to be pushed back to sometime later this month or in September. Once the Trust has become effective, states can begin the process of becoming certified beneficiaries. This is one of the reasons why the state legislature backed away from previous efforts to appropriate $30 million from the settlement towards public transit earlier this year – the funds will not become available until after the state has been certified.
Ohio EPA has recently announced that they are in the process of drafting a mitigation plan which is expected to be completed and available for public comment sometime later this fall. The agency reports that during the December public comment period, the most requested use for funds from the settlement was for school bus replacement, transit bus replacement, and electric vehicle charging stations. These are just two of the ten allowable uses for the funds which are outlined as a part of the VW Mitigation Trust Settlement. The plan being formulated by the Ohio EPA would include all ten of the allowable uses of funds.
Greater Ohio continues to support the use of funds from the settlement being used to support transit – specifically the purchase of newer, more fuel efficient transit vehicles. As was noted in December when Greater Ohio reached out to Ohio EPA with recommendations regarding the use of settlement funds, public transportation in Ohio has been severely underfunded for years. The state currently allocates approximately $0.63 per Ohioan to transit, while Ohio’s peers, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, invest over $24.00 per capita. As a result of deferred support, over one-third of Ohio’s 3,200 transit vehicles are still on the road despite being beyond their useful life and in need of replacement. The state mitigation plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund represents an enormous opportunity to replace diesel-powered city buses, repower buses with alternative fuel engines, and other alternatives that are both environmentally friendly and will make transit for cost effective.