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Environmental groups cheer plan to spend VW settlement dollars on green transportation

August 30, 2017 Updated: August 30, 2017 at 9:17 pm
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FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2015 file photo a giant logo of the German car manufacturer Volkswagen is pictured on top of a company's factory building in Wolfsburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

Environmental groups are cheering on a plan to spend Colorado's $68 million lawsuit settlement from Volkswagen on green-powered solutions to getting around.

Under the draft, $18 million would go for transit buses, another $18 million for trucks and buses that run on alternative fuels, $10 million to electric vehicle charging stations plus administration and other clean-air spending.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released will hold a public hearing on the prosal oon Sept. 18 and take public comments into October before a final decision that's expected in November.

The $68 million is the state's entire share of a mediated $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen after it was discovered the automaker installed computer software to cheat emissions tests in about 550,000 diesel vehicles from 2009 through 2016. About 9,700 of those vehicles were sold in Colorado.

The money from the settlement must go toward reducing vehicle emissions.

Meanwhile, as The Denver Post reported Wednesday, Pikes Peak International Speedway has become a repository for thousands of Golfs, Beetles, Jettas, Passats and Audi A3s that were transported to the speedway for storage since the federal government cracked down on Volkswagen for its cheating software.

Volkswagen had reacquired 275,601 2.0 liter TDI vehicles and terminated leases on 10,027 cars by June 15, the Post reported, parking a virtual sea of the legally flawed vehicles months ago in surface lots at the Speedway - to the initial bewilderment of passersby - as well as at locations in Maryland, Michigan and California, among other sites.

As for the Colorado proposals to spend the settlement money, "The goal ...is to reduce harmful pollution and positively impact public health as much as possible," Sophia Guerrero-Murphy, transportation and energy advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental organization, said in a statement. "To accomplish these goals, the CDPHE needs to electrify our buses and trucks. This is also an opportunity to make sure our whole state benefits from infrastructure that will positively impact our air and quality of life, especially underserved urban and rural communities."

The $10 million Colorado could put into electric-charging stations is the maximum the settlement allows. That's enough to put in 60 fast-charging stations. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group say if those stations are placed 30 miles apart, the stations would offer enough juice to cross interstates 70, 25, and 76, along with most of U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 50, U.S. 285 and U.S. 40.

"Volkswagen's misleadingly dirty cars emitted pollutants by as much as 40 times over the legal limit," said Danny Katz, CoPIRG's director. "Colorado has an opportunity to use this money in a truly transformative way by focusing on electric cars, buses and trucks. Supporting electrification is the best way to put us on track to where we ought to go - a transportation system with zero emissions."

Will Toor, the transportation program director for SWEEP, said Colorado should "hit the accelerator for electric vehicles" with the windfall.

"Because Colorado's major utilities have been closing their most polluting older power plants and rapidly adding wind and solar, the state's electricity mix is getting cleaner and cleaner so moving towards electricity as the fuel for vehicles puts us on a path to a zero emissions transportation system," he said in the statement.

More electric vehicles on the road has the support of most statehouse Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. Last December he, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said they would draw up a plan over the next year to put up stations to give electric vehicles a network of more than 2,000 miles of highway.

"Our residents and the millions of visitors to our states will be able to drive electric vehicles from Denver to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas - from the Rockies to the Pacific," Hickenlooper said at the time.

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