North Carolina will receive about $92 million from Volkswagen as part of a court settlement over the faked pollution controls on its cars, and Gov. Roy Cooper is looking for the public’s help in deciding how to spend it.
There are strings attached: The money must be used in some way that reduces air pollution from cars, trucks, trains, boats or other moving vehicles. But that leaves a lot of possibilities, and Cooper is asking for people and groups to submit their ideas by Dec. 31.
Cooper has directed the state Department of Environmental Quality to develop a plan for spending the money that identifies possible projects and their potential benefits for air quality.
“Clean air is important to our health and our economy, and this settlement gives us the opportunity to use funds paid by wrongdoers to make the air we breathe cleaner,” Cooper said in a statement. “We want to hear from the public how we can best invest these funds to improve North Carolina.”
The money is the result of a court-approved settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government over problems on the company’s diesel cars. The settlement requires that the money go to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides to offset the effects of software the company installed on millions of vehicles that made them appear to be in compliance with pollution tests when in fact they were emitting as much as 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide permitted by the Clean Air Act.
About 18,700 of the affected vehicles were registered in North Carolina, according to Cooper. Volkswagen made a separate settlement with the owners directly, offering to buy back their cars or pay to bring them into compliance with environmental rules.
The $92 million will be available to the state over the coming decade, but it’s not clear yet who will decide how to spend it. The General Assembly’s budget this year says legislators must approve any spending of the Volkswagen money, but Cooper disputes that as part of a larger fight in the courts over powers he says the legislature has taken from his office in violation of the state constitution.
In the meantime, the state Department of Environmental Quality will develop a plan for the money. To make a suggestion, go to the state Division of Air Quality’s home page, deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/air-quality, and look for a link to the Volkswagen settlement page.