by Bethany Blankley
Florida is expanding its purchase of electric transit and school buses statewide through funding made available from a national 2016-era EPA Volkswagen settlement.
Of the state’s $166 million allotment, more than $68 million was awarded to 13 counties to purchase electric transit buses. More than $57 million was awarded to purchase 218 electric school buses in seven counties.
The electric transit buses will replace existing diesel transit buses in Alachua, Broward, Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, Leon, Marion, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco and Pinellas counties. The electric school buses will replace existing conventional fuel school buses in Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
“This funding will help lower emissions while also bringing our transit bus fleets to more modern standards,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “This is a win-win for air quality and advancing the state’s efforts to bolster growing electric vehicle usage.”
“Florida continues to be a national leader in air quality and is proud to be the most populous state in the nation to have met all of EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said. “Through collaboration with partner agencies and the private sector, we are able to implement projects to protect air quality and support the needs of our communities.”
The projects are part of the state’s Department of Environmental Protections’ Florida Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, which was created to allocate Florida’s $166 million portion of the national Volkswagen settlement. The state’s plan includes constructing new electric vehicle charging stations, procuring electric buses for select school districts and transit agencies, and providing funding for Diesel Emission Reduction Act projects.
DEP also awarded grants to install 150 electric vehicle charging stations along the state highway system and several DERA grants to reduce emissions in and around the state’s ports. The projects also include marine engine replacements, an electric freight switch, and port cargo handling equipment.
Public transit agencies that participate in the program must purchase two electric transit buses for every bus replaced pursuant to the NOFA published in the Florida Administrative Registry. An eligible public transit agency that doesn’t meet the eligibility requirement may still participate but would be subject to a pro-rated portion of the award.
Only school districts within an air quality priority area designated in the mitigation plan were eligible for the project. In order to qualify, school districts had to provide at least a 25% cost share. Districts were encouraged to create partnerships with local electric utilities or other business entities to maximize cost-share opportunities. The selected school districts were required to use state-approved vendors or competitively identify the businesses to complete the project.
The settlement came about after the EPA launched a civil enforcement case against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC, and Porsche Cars North America, Inc. for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act. EPA found that Volkswagen sold approximately 590,000 diesel motor vehicles with model years 2009 to 2016 that were equipped with “‘defeat devices’ in the form of computer software designed to cheat on federal emissions tests.”
In June and December 2016, Volkswagen entered into multi-billion-dollar settlements to partially resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations. By January 2017, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to three criminal felony counts and agreed to pay $2.8 billion in criminal penalties. In separate civil resolutions, it also agreed to pay $1.5 billion to cover EPA’s claim for civil penalties and U.S. Customs and Border Protection claims for customs fraud.
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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.