Environmentalists give Pa. an F
State isn’t spending enough of $118M fund on clean fuel, they say
Pennsylvania is in a unique position to pivot away from traditional sources of fuel, namely gasoline, environmental activists say.
But they argued Tuesday at a news conference at the Allentown Arts Park that the state is failing badly so far as it pays for programs through a $118 million settlement fund for the state with Volkswagen over the company’s emissions cheating on its vehicles.
“Unfortunately, our scorecard gave Pennsylvania an F for how it’s using VW settlement money in ways that will protect public health and our environment,” said Amanda Lapham of PennEnvironment, one of the authors of the study. “Our research found that Pennsylvania’s funding structure heavily favors dirty diesel buses over electric buses.”
PennEnvironment and PennPIRG Education Fund recently released a report card on how states are using their share of the settlement money. Pennsylvania’s F joined 13 states and Puerto Rico with the same mark, with the state cited for failing to make electric vehicles a priority.
The state program, Driving PA Forward, has distributed about 10% of the money, including some locally. Northampton County Councilwoman Tara Zrinski said the county and the Allentown Parking Authority have received more than $100,000 worth of grants for 13 electric-vehicle charging stations.
However, more needs to be done, she said.
“Driving PA Forward means going way under the speed limit,” Zrinski said.
Andrea Wittchen of Lower Saucon Township, who operates a sustainability consulting firm called iSpring Associates, said the state should dedicate much of the fund toward replacing gas-guzzling public and school buses with electric fleets without costing taxpayers.
“Why sink that money into old-tech solutions?” Wittchen said. “It makes no sense.”
In an email, spokeswoman
Deborah Klenotic of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which administers Driving PA Forward, said officials are not precluding electric vehicles.
She said the program has approved about $2.3 million that will add 542 electric vehicle charging plugs. That’s on top of 480 available charging stations with 1,169 plugs statewide. She said the state ranks 14th in the country in terms of the number of plugs.
Klenotic said four of seven approved proposals offer funding for diesel-to-electric projects. The remaining three programs offer funding for infrastructure for electric cars and trucks, as well as auxiliary electric power for ships in port.
“For every state, Volkswagen stipulates that up to 15% of its settlement funding can support electric vehicle charging, and we’re awarding the full 15%,” she said.
But the speakers at Tuesday’s event, including about two dozen students from an environmental values and ethics class at Lehigh University, said more needs to be done in support of electric.
“I think there’s a lot of support for it [using electric vehicles],” said Breena Holland, associate professor of political science. “But I do think the infrastructure is huge, because people have to find a place to plug in.”
The report card comes weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf announced $8.5 million in awards from the settlement. The groups at Tuesday’s news conference said most of that money is benefiting diesel-fuel projects, such as replacing older diesel vehicles with newer diesel ones.