As our state prepares its plan to use nearly $51 million in settlement monies due from the Volkswagen lawsuit, citizen groups are calling for some of those funds to go to programs that directly impact air quality in urban communities of color.
The Volkswagen settlement of 2016 obligates Volkswagen to pay close to $20 billion under the Clean Air Act for selling diesel cars that deliberately cheated U.S. emissions testing. Of the $2.7 billion that will be allocated to states, Connecticut is eligible to receive $51 million to help mitigate the damage from VW diesel cars sold in our state.
Chispa-CT, a community outreach program of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, points to the need for a portion of those funds to be invested in our state’s communities that are most impacted by poor air quality. These tend to be urban and economically stressed communities of color. The Chispa-CT campaign effort will push for Volkswagen settlement dollars to be used for cleaner, low-emission school buses.
Wildaliz Bermudez, Chispa-CT Program Director, announced the Clean Bus campaign as part of the state’s Commission on Equity and Opportunity Policy Day, which was attended by more than 200 people at the state Capitol on March 16. In her presentation, Bermudez told the public that, “Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has already drafted an initial mitigation plan”. More public input shall be forthcoming.
“Communities of color suffer disproportionate impacts from pollution, including increased rates of asthma and respiratory disease,” said Bermudez. “In Connecticut, 85 percent of our total student population rides buses to get to public school. It is imperative that we call for cleaner options for our bus fleet as a real solution to curb our children’s high rates of exposure to diesel emissions. This must be part of the VW settlement funds available to our state.”
The Chispa-CT campaign is also being launched in three other states (Arizona, Nevada and Maryland) and seeks a commitment by those states to replace less environmentally friendly school bus fleets with zero emissions buses. The goal is to lower the use of fossil fuels and curb emissions which affect air quality and the health of children and their families.
Chispa is not alone in paying close attention to the Volkswagen settlement, The CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs has been helping to convene a broad coalition of groups advocating for prioritizing projects that reduce diesel emissions in urban communities with the poorest air quality and projects that use zero emissions technologies: http://www.ctclimateandjobs.org/vw. “The amount of diesel exhaust exposure our children face on school buses is rampant in our urban centers,” said State Representative Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury, applauding the initiative. “In order for us to have such funds available, we must make sure that our environmental justice demands are acted upon so that our most vulnerable population, our children see a decrease in asthma.”
To learn more about the campaign for zero-emission school buses and our conservation work, visit: www.conservationeducation.org or like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChispaCT/. This work would not be possible without funding from the League of Conservation Voters and the Connecticut Community Foundation. Additional information about Chispa can be found at www.lcv.org/Chispa.