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State seeks ideas for VW settlement

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality seeks input on how it should spend $14.6 million in funds from a consent decree reached in federal court over the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

The state received its money based on how many Volkswagen vehicles are driven in the state, said Stuart Spencer, department associate director in charge of the Office of Air Quality.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered Volkswagen had installed devices that would mask their vehicles' emissions to make them appear as though they were environmentally compliant when they were not. The EPA and Volkswagen later reached a consent decree to pay the agency for projects that states will implement to offset the emissions Volkswagen's vehicles unlawfully produced, Stuart said.

The funds are limited in their use. Only transportation-related projects can be conducted, such as the replacement of medium and large trucks and the acquisition of zero-emission vehicle supply equipment.

The Environmental Quality Department is accepting input through Nov. 1 on its plan, which proposes spending 60 percent of the funds on compressed natural gas projects. Another 25 percent would go toward statewide compressed natural gas and electric vehicle grants, and the final 15 percent would go toward electric vehicle infrastructure.

The department does not have an estimate of what the impact of those projects would be on vehicle emissions in the state.

Spencer said the money can be used for buying new compressed natural gas vehicles but cannot be used to create infrastructure for those vehicles. He said the state hopes it could leverage private investment in that infrastructure through this project. Spencer added that it's the other way around for electric vehicles: the money can't be used to buy them, but it can be used for infrastructure such as charging stations.

State's haze plan gets EPA support

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to accept changes the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has suggested for the state's implementation of a federal rule governing visibility at national wilderness areas.

The Regional Haze Rule requires Arkansas to take measures to improve visibility at national wilderness areas, typically by reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. The state submitted a draft plan for nitrogen oxide emissions, which can only be considered for implementation if the EPA withdraws the current federal plan.

The difference between the state plan and the federal one is that the federal one requires emissions controls on specific power plants, while the state plan allows utilities in Arkansas to trade emissions allowances and credits during the summer, when air quality tends to be worse.

Utilities favored the state's changes to its plan, citing the flexibility the changes would offer. Environmental advocates opposed them, arguing that the changes would allow higher-emitting plants to continue emitting at the same levels so long as utilities cut emissions elsewhere.

The federal plan uses the EPA's Best Available Retrofit Technology analyses to determine caps for each plant. The state's method would drop those analyses in favor of the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which calls for lower future caps on emissions. The state is already subject to that rule during the summer months.

In its decision posted in the Federal Register, the EPA agreed with the department's argument that it could accomplish its requirements for haze by using the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. But it noted that the rule can only be used in Arkansas' plan if the EPA finalizes its findings that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is a better tool than Best Available Retrofit Technology.

NW News on 09/19/2017

Print Headline: State seeks ideas for VW settlement State's haze plan gets EPA support

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