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 more air pollution in Minnesota than all of our permitted facilities combined. They are the primary source of pollution we are exposed to every day because they often operate near where we live, work, and recreate.
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.
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. Today, heavier and less efficient vehicles, such as sports utility vehicles (SUVs), crossovers, and pickup trucks make up over 53% of all passenger vehicles and emit 70% of the passenger-vehicle related pollution.
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.
To learn more about air pollution from vehicles and heavy-duty equipment, visit the EPA’s website.