Vehicles and heavy-duty equipment

Volkswagen company logo - blue

Volkswagen settlement

Volkswagen has agreed to settle allegations that it violated the federal Clean Air Act by selling vehicles that emit air pollution over the legal limit, and by cheating on federal emission tests to hide the excess pollution. The affected vehicles exceed federal emission limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx), a pollutant that harms public health and contributes to ozone or smog formation. Minnesota expects to receive $47 million from the trust between 2017 and 2027. The money will be used to offset the excess air pollution caused by VW's actions. 

For more information, see the Volkswagen settlement page 

Vehicles and heavy-duty equipment get us where we need to go, move goods around the state, help harvest our crops, and provide recreation on our lakes and trails. This category of sources includes cars, trucks, construction and agricultural equipment, boats, snowmobiles, and more.

Each individual vehicle or piece of equipment may not pollute much, but all together they emit almost half the air pollution in Minnesota. They are the primary source of pollution we are exposed to every day because they often operate near where we live, work, and recreate.

Reducing emissions

We can reduce emissions from vehicles and equipment on three levels. The federal government requires vehicles and equipment to get more and more efficient. More efficient vehicles produce less pollution per mile driven. The federal government also regulates what is in the fuel we burn. Removing lead from gasoline and reducing sulfur in diesel fuel has drastically reduced emissions of those pollutants. To date, most emission reductions from vehicles have come from fuel and technology improvements resulting from federal regulations.

Emission trends in Minnesota for major vehicle–related pollutants 2006-2016

The trend in Minnesota from 2006-2016 is that emissions from major vehicle related pollutants carbon monoxide, fine particles, and nitrogen dioxide are decreasing for both heavy and light duty vehicles. Carbon dioxide is only decreasing slightly.

At the local and regional level, we can plan land uses and provide alternative transportation options so that people do not need to drive a car to get to work, school, or the grocery store. The MPCA serves as an advisor and technical resource for a wide range of transportation planning and funding efforts across the state to ensure that transportation planning in Minnesota supports air quality improvements.

Minnesotans can also do a lot individually to reduce our contributions to vehicle air pollution by taking actions such as choosing to walk or bike for shorter trips or considering gas mileage when purchasing a vehicle. Electric vehicles are also a good option for reducing vehicle emissions.  Today, heavier and less efficient vehicles, such as sports utility vehicles (SUVs), crossovers, and pickup trucks make up the majority of passenger vehicles in Minnesota. These heavier vehicles are 57% of all passenger vehicles, but emit 70% of the passenger-vehicle related pollution.

Car versus SUV emissions; cars: 47% SUVs 53%

Diesel engines are the workhorses of our economy because of their power, efficiency, and longevity. However, older heavy-duty diesel vehicles and equipment can produce massive amounts of harmful air pollution, while modern equipment and engines are much cleaner and can drastically reduce emissions. A modern diesel truck produces over 97% less fine particulate matter than an old truck. Diesel equipment can last for decades, though, so it can take a long time for the older, dirtier equipment to be retired and replaced with cleaner options.

One old diesel truck can pollute more than 30 new diesel trucks

One old diesel truck can produce as much particle pollution as 25-50 modern trucks under the same operation factors.

Vehicles and environmental justice

Pollution from vehicles is an important environmental justice concern. A 2015 study by MPCA researchers found that while communities of color and lower socio-economic status tend to own fewer vehicles, do less driving, and use public transit more often than other groups, they are also exposed to higher levels of traffic-related pollution. This is because busy roadways, and their associated air pollution, often run through communities of color. Many communities of color therefore bear a disproportionate burden of traffic-related health impacts while contributing less to vehicle pollution.

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