In the spring and summer of 2019, MPCA began sharing results from our first two years of grant programs and asking for public input on how we should spend settlement funds in Phase 2 (2020-2023).
Our public engagement included an online survey, listening sessions in six communities across the state, two technical meetings held in Saint Paul (also available via webinar), and an opportunity to submit written comments. We received hundreds of written comments and responses to the online survey, described in greater depth in Appendix 5 of the Phase 2 plan.
What we heard
At multiple meetings and in written comments, we heard an interest in advancing Minnesota's transportation sector toward alternative fuels and adopting electric technology, including electric buses and other heavy-duty electric vehicles. Of the 1350 comments we received, 1324 wrote in support of funding electric buses (predominantly school buses, but also public transit buses). Meeting participants shared information on the advantages of vehicles powered by propane, natural gas, and electricity in terms of lower emissions and reduced maintenance and operating costs.
Reducing emissions from school buses emerged as a key priority across all types of public engagement. Concern for children's health and their exposure to emissions from school buses was repeated throughout our community meetings in Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area as well as written comments. Across the state, we heard support for new, cleaner school buses using different fuel types. Most written comments specified a preference for replacing older diesel school buses with electric options, which would help reduce emissions and introduce new technologies to Minnesota. We also heard requests for funding other options such as propane, as the lower unit cost would increase the number of buses replaced, resulting in greater immediate reductions of emissions and exposure.
We heard from many Minnesotans that MPCA should continue to invest in EV charging stations across the state at the maximum level the settlement allows (up to 15% of a state's funds). Approximately 94% of written comments expressed support for investment in EV charging stations: one of the highest proportion of comments received on any single topic. Many commenters supported the use of renewable energy, particularly solar, to power these stations. In Greater Minnesota, participants were especially interested in EV infrastructure on highway corridors to connect cities outside of the Twin Cities metro area. Survey responses also indicated a strong preference (66%) for charging along highway corridors.
When asked which factors are the most important to consider as we fund projects, the top two responses from our online survey were health impacts and environmental justice (55% and 48%, respectively). In written comments and our metro area community meetings, we heard that we should focus our efforts in areas where pollution sources, poverty, and communities of color intersect, given the disproportionate impacts of air pollution on overburdened communities. Of all the written comments we received, 49% supported environmental justice-related uses of the VW funds, the majority of which identified helping low-income communities as a priority. Approximately 25% of all written comments related to health and pollution exposure, most of which focused on children.
Finally, after learning about the progress made in Phase 1 (2018-2019) in reducing both nitrogen oxide (NOx) and fine particle (PM2.5)emissions, meeting participants and survey respondents indicated MPCA should increase our focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Phase 2. We also heard that we should continue reducing NOx and PM2.5, given the settlement's attention to NOx and the exposure concerns for fine particle pollution.
At our public listening sessions in 2019, we heard from Minnesotans across the state about their priorities and how they'd like to see us spend Volkswagen settlement funds over the next few years. Click through to see our "dotmocracy" results and what we heard at public meetings as we planned for Phase 2.