Conservatives to Obama: Don’t use VW settlement to push EVs

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Conservative groups are urging the Obama administration to scrap a $2 billion pot of money for electric vehicles in the $14.7 billion proposed Volkswagen AG air pollution settlement.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, along with the Heartland Institute and others that do not accept the science of climate change, filed the comments Friday to the Department of Justice.

The groups questioned the legal authority of the court to implement the zero-emissions vehicle plan under the Clean Air Act and the political motives of the Obama administration.

“The Obama administration’s attempt to enact industrial policy — i.e., the ZEV plan — through a negotiated settlement is inefficient, encourages crony capitalism, and works against the public interest,” wrote the groups.

Under the settlement, Volkswagen is required to submit a plan to invest in EV charging stations, public education and electrifying large fleets like those of ride-sharing networks.

Friday marked the end of the public comment period for the Volkswagen consent decree, which represents the largest-ever U.S. automotive buyback offer. Environmentalists, consumer advocates and trade groups for diesel and the EV charging industry all chimed in. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer has set an Oct. 18 hearing to grant final approval to the settlement after granting preliminary approval on July 26.

Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, urged the Justice Department to hike up buyback values in its comments. It also called for owners of the affected vehicles who opt for a fix to be allowed to change their mind and choose a buyback.

A third request was for U.S. EPA to spend money from the Volkswagen settlement on charging infrastructure rather than publicity for EVs, which they said should be left to automakers. Environmental advocates and the EV charging industry also echoed those requests in their comments.

“It is very difficult to develop balanced messaging for the whole industry versus a single brand,” said Terry O’Day, vice president at EV charging infrastructure company EVgo. “We think that a durable investment in infrastructure is the best way to utilize the settlement funding, because only by using it do you learn that this is a practical technology choice for your lifestyle.”

The firm submitted its own comments and signed onto an industrywide letter.

The Natural Resources Defense Council also called for a ceiling on the amount of money spent on public outreach, among other requests.