Friday, August 16, 2019

Sierra Club FL to FLDEP: VW Diesel Scandal $$ Should Go to Zero Emission Electric Buses, NOT More Diesel

Sierra Club FL Chapter Comments to FLDEP on its draft plan for how best to spend FL's $166M from the VW Diesel Scandal. FL is the last state to issue its plan, lagging behind all the other states now using their funds to help school boards and transit agencies buy zero emission electric buses. VW, now transitioning to manufacturing only EVs by 2026 in Chattanooga, is making amends for falsifying emissions testing by spending up to $14.7 billion to remediate its excess NOx emissions, buying back vehicles ($10.03 billion), installing EV charging stations, and  awarding states $2.7 billion towards NOx reduction programs via the Environmental Mitigation Trust.

August 16, 2019

John Dawson, Deputy Director
Division of Air Resource Management
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3800 Commonwealth Blvd, MS93
Carr Building, Room 215
Tallahassee FL, 32399–3000

Delivered via Email:

Dear Deputy Director Dawson,   

On behalf of Sierra Club Florida and our 40,000 members and supporters, let us express our appreciation for the work performed by the staff of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on the State ofFlorida Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. We have been engaged with FDEP staff from the beginning, participating in all public input sessions as well as the public survey conducted last year. We look forward to seeing the plan’s funds used towards relieving our residents from the harm of smog generated by NOx spewing-vehicles. 

We are glad to see school, transit and shuttle buses receive 70% of the VW settlement money and that the maximum 15% was allocated for electric vehicle supply equipment.

We appreciate the Governor’s recently announced commitment to installing charging stations along the Florida Turnpike. However, the plan must provide additional details on how funds will be spent on this initiative, such as information on cost shares, segments served, and type of charging supported.

We found that the "Public Input" and "Areas with a Disproportional Share of the Air Pollution Burden" sections to be informative. However, the "Overall Goal of Florida's Mitigation Plan",  "Eligible Mitigation Actions", and "Emissions Benefits" sections lack clarity and require additional review to clearly outline FDEP's intent to the public.

The major points that Sierra Club Florida would like to see addressed in the plan are the following:

             Clarification on whether eligible units will be replaced with electric powered units and a commitment to funding only electric powered units for transit and school buses. We request that FDEP clarify its definition of alternative and legacy fuels by defining diesel and diesel-hybrid fuels as legacy fuels, rendering them ineligible for funding under the settlement
Asthma is the #1 reason any kid misses
a day of school. They need zero emission
electric buses, not more dirty diesel. 

             In "Emissions Benefits Estimate Based on Selected Eligible Mitigation Actions", diesel buses are included an example. There are two major problems concerning the inclusion of diesel buses in this analysis Several relevant cost factors are missing from the analysis, leading one to erroneously conclude that diesel buses would achieve the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed. However, consideration of the full range of relevant cost factors indicates  that electric buses provide the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed.

             Figure 13 analyzes expenses for diesel and electric buses. However, it includes only information on capital expenses and not operating expenses. This ignores the primary financial difference between the two modalities and can lead the reader to mistakenly conclude that diesel buses eliminate more NOx per ton than electric buses. Total Cost of Ownership analyses of electric, diesel and electric transit buses show that an electric transit bus is more economical than diesel or diesel-hybrid buses, due to substantially lower lifetime fuel and maintenance expenses. Because of these factors, zero-emission electric buses are the most cost-effective means of reducing NOx emissions. Proterra, an electric bus manufacturer that boasts the highest number of transit service miles in the United States, now estimates electric bus fuel costs to be less than one-third of that of a diesel bus ($9,680 electric vs. $30,000 diesel). Proterra also cites a maintenance expense rate of $.55/mile for electric vs. $1.00/mile for diesel, which would amount to $22,000 for electric vs. $40,000 for diesel for after  40,000 miles. Such factors, completely omitted in the draft plan, change the conclusion of how to remove the greatest Tons Per Year for the dollar. We recommend that FDEP either add another chart which adds such comparative operating expenses in a more comprehensive manner, or delete any reference to diesel as anything other than as a legacy fuel.
PSTA now runs 2 electric buses in
downtown St. Pete, with 4 more on
the way to Pinellas County.

             Electric bus manufacturers have faced objections concerning the comparatively high up-front cost of electric buses. To assuage these concerns, the industry has devised strategies to reduce capital expenses of electric buses to a level comparable with new diesel buses. Chief of these initiatives is offering to lease the electric bus batteries. In doing so, the expense of the battery is converted from a large capital expense into an operating expense that is paid for in affordable regular payments. .  Through this initiative, the operating costs and Total Cost of Ownership of electric buses remain lower than diesel and diesel-hybrid buses (see attached powerpoint slides provided by Proterra). BYD, a supplier for other Florida transit agencies, also offers similar battery lease options, as do other manufacturers. Like Proterra’s initiative, these programs curb capital expenses while keeping operational expenses and the Total Cost of Ownership of electric buses lower than diesel and diesel-hybrid alternatives.

             While the electric school bus industry does not yet operate in Florida, we reasonably expect  them to produce electric school buses with similarly affordable Total Costs of Ownership. Expense factors that describe the low operating cost of electric buses should be included in any determination of how FDEP might best meet its criteria of identifying mitigation projects that achieve the lowest cost per ton of pollutants removed.

             For the State to obtain the greatest benefit from the plans funds, the Emission Benefit section should recognize that the greatest reduction of NOx emissions, and the greatest benefit to the public, are received when local governments and other applicants provide a cost share partnership with the State on these projects.
Florida's smoggiest county, Hillsborough,
on one of its all-too-frequent smoggy days. 

             It is not clear whether replacing school, transit and shuttle buses outside the five Air Quality Priority Areas in Florida would be eligible for consideration. Would transit agencies and school boards be able to respond to RFIs if they are located outside of the five designated Air Quality Priority Areas in Florida?

             As with Figure 13., Appendix E on page 60 should be replaced with a graph that more accurately compares the replacement of existing diesel buses with electric buses. It appears that the current exhibit is discussing replacement of diesel engines with newer diesel engines. It also repeats the same table to document both school and transit buses. Operating expenses should be provided for any and all comparative information, here and elsewhere.
Our abundant FL sunshine converts tailpipe emissions into
O2 - ground level ozone, a.k.a. smog. 

             We recommend modifying the protocol for acquiring eligible replacement units for school, transit and shuttle buses to include only electrical vehicles. A number of states have developed plans that specifically direct these funds to replace diesel school, transit and shuttle buses with electric school, transit and shuttle buses. Other alternative fuels, such as i.e. propane and Compressed Natural Gas, do not deliver either the operating cost savings or the reduction in NOx emissions that zero emission electric buses provide. Electric vehicles are the vehicles of the future, and the Sunshine State should be a leader in electric vehicles.
Tallahassee's Star Metro transit agency
was the 1st in FL to use electric buses.
Star Metro will go 100% electric by 2035,
part of the City's Ready for 100% Clean
Energy for All commitment. 

             Include a general or aspirational timeline for the encumbrance of the funds.

             While reduction of pollutants other than NOx from diesel engines is not explicitly one of the criteria chosen by FLDEP, it is worth noting that several other states have considered non-NOx pollution co-benefits in their VW investment decisions. For example:

             Colorado’s mitigation plan establishes a goal to “[m]aximize the trust’s air quality benefits in Colorado, including reductions of NOx, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants.” (Colorado Proposed Beneficiary Mitigation Plan: Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche Clean Air Act Settlements (Aug. 28, 2017), at 8, available at .)
             The District of Columbia notes that “[t]he principal air pollutants of concern in the District are NOx, fine particles (PM2.5), ozone, greenhouse gases (GHG), and air toxics” and that, “[a]lthough the VW Settlement is primarily focused on reducing NOx emissions, the District has also decided to consider reduction of PM2.5, GHGs, and air toxics in developing this spending plan.” (DC Department of Energy and Environment (2017) The District’s Draft Spending Plan For Volkswagen Settlement Funds, at 2, available at .)
             Minnesota expressly targets emission reductions in three categories: NOx, PM2.5 and GHGs. (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota’s Volkswagen Settlement Beneficiary Mitigation Plan – DRAFT (Feb. 2018), at 13, available at .)

             The public health benefits of reducing NOx and other pollutants, along with the economic benefits of lower Total Cost of Ownership creates a compelling case for allocating 70% of these funds solely for electric school, transit and shuttle buses as the most cost-effective means of achieving the goals of the settlement.

Thank you for your consideration of these points. If you have any questions or we can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Phil Compton, Senior Organizing Representative
Deborah Foote, Government Affairs & Political Director
Grant Gelhardt, State Chapter Executive Committee Member
Sierra Club Florida

1400 FL Sierra Club members added their names to our request that FLDEP use these one-time-only funds to help
our schools and transit agencies do their part to clean up our air with clean, quiet zero emission electric buses.
If you were one of them, thanks!