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VW settlement helps pay for clean vehicles in Montana
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VW settlement helps pay for clean vehicles in Montana

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Money from Montana’s portion of a multibillion-dollar emissions settlement is going toward replacing older diesel vehicles to reduce emissions.

The state Department of Environmental Quality recently announced up to about $7.3 million for diesel replacements from a Volkswagen emissions settlement, as well as funding from a similar program for school buses. The settlement program would partially fund less polluting replacements for diesel vehicles like dump trucks, concrete mixers and transit buses.

“This involves an emissions cheating scandal that Volkswagen was caught up in a number of years ago,” Neal Ullman with DEQ said at a webinar last week. “The U.S. Department of Justice came to a settlement agreement with Volkswagen, and based on the number of registered vehicles in each of the states, the states were eligible for a portion.”

Volkswagen admitted to installing software on millions of cars worldwide that turned on pollution controls during testing to make it seem as if the cars met limits on nitrogen oxides, according to the Associated Press. NOx gases can contribute to asthma and respiratory diseases, according to DEQ.

The replacements program comes out of about $12.6 million allocated for Montana. Government agencies, businesses and nonprofits can all apply, though government applicants are eligible for generally higher proportions of funding.

Applicants would have to properly scrap the old vehicles, Ullman said, such as cutting a hole in the engine block. Eligible vehicles are generally models from 1992-2009, and replacement vehicles must operate in the state for at least half the time, or mileage, for at least five years.

Missoula County is considering replacing two snow plow trucks, according to Public Works Director Shane Stack. He said the county is in need of vehicle replacements beyond what its current budget can cover.

“It essentially means we’re out there with outdated equipment, and we try to maintain it as best we can," Stack said.

Missoula County set a goal of 100% clean energy by 2030, Lee Newspapers reported. Electric vehicles would fit with those expectations, Stack said.

“For us, it’s pretty low risk,” Stack said. “If they’re going to pay for 85% of the cost, I can buy two electric trucks and still be below the cost of a new diesel.”

Dedicated charging stations are eligible for program funding with electric replacements. The program could also cover EPA-certified diesel vehicles or those powered by other fuels like propane or natural gas, though these couldn't get fueling infrastructure funding, according to DEQ documents.

Airport ground support vehicles are eligible under the program, though only for electric replacements. Missoula International Airport has six belt loader vehicles for baggage and hopes to replace at least two of them, according to Dan Neuman, its business development manager.

DEQ also announced another round of applications for the Clean School Bus Program, a similar setup but funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act. Applicants are not allowed to double dip in both programs for the same vehicle.

The current pot of bus money has helped fund 31 diesel school bus replacements since January 2020 and DEQ hopes for another eight to 10 this round, Ullman said in an email.

In north-central Montana, Winifred School District is looking to replace two buses, one small and one large, with newer diesel models, according to Superintendent Chad Fordyce. He said the district’s enrollment increased by around 17%-20% this school year.

Since the programs aim to reduce emissions, Ullman said they require replacements in the same class of vehicle, generally not larger.

School bus program applications are due Nov. 15. Applications for the first round of the settlement program are due Jan. 14, 2022, with a second round due Jun. 17, 2022, if there’s money left over.

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