Texas wants to use more than $209 million from a lawsuit settlement with Volkswagen to reduce air pollution and help introduce more zero-emission vehicles to Texas roadways, according to a plan unveiled Wednesday.
The state sued Volkswagen in 2015 after the German automaker admitted to selling diesel vehicles that were rigged to circumvent emissions tests, and the next year, Volkswagen agreed to pay Texas more than $190 million, plus $50 million in civil penalties and attorneys' fees. About 32,000 Volkswagen vehicles capable of emissions cheating were sold in Texas.
The primary goal of the plan, released Wednesday by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, will be to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions — most relevant for air pollution — in "areas that bear a disproportionate share of the air pollution burden," including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, San Antonio and Beaumont-Port Arthur, along with El Paso County. Other priorities include reducing public exposure to pollutants from older vehicles and equipment and preparing for increased and long-term use of zero-emission vehicles.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office, which filed lawsuits against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. and parent company Audi of America in 2015, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of left-leaning advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement that the state's plan to dedicate $31 million to the zero-emissions vehicle program is a step closer to clean transportation in Texas but said some of the "most cost-effective projects" were absent from the plan.
"Volkswagen vehicles fitted with emissions-cheating devices spewed tons of illegal nitrogen oxide pollution into the air, which in turn forms ground-level ozone," Shelley said. "Although Texas claims to prioritize funding for cost-effective reductions of nitrogen oxides, the plan excludes funding for freight switchers, tugs and tow vessels, which are among the most cost-effective projects available in terms of their ability to reduce air pollution and protect public health."
Shelley also criticized the plan for excluding certain areas of the state — such as Austin, the residents of which, he said, purchase more Volkswagens per capita than people in other Texas cities.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is seeking public comment for the plan until Oct. 8.