Public gets little say on how state spends Volkswagon Clean Air funds

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Promised Illinois Environmental Protection Agency public meetings for input on how the Volkswagen settlement money should be distributed have not materialized. The only current avenue for residents to provide input on the settlement is to take an IEPA survey. “I wonder if our residents feel like they’ve had some kind of seat at the table,” state Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) said of the survey which closes April 20. (Photo from Volkswagen)

(Second in a series looking at how money from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement will affect Illinois residents)

Are you familiar with the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environment and Economic Transportation tool? Or the U.S. EPA Diesel Engine Quantifier?

How about the difference between pre-Tier 4 diesel switcher locomotives and other locomotives? Or Class 8 freight trucks compared to Class 4-7 freight trucks?

Do you have a project to submit for funding to the IEPA?

These are all Illinois Environmental Protection Agency survey questions that can get you thinking you are in the wrong place for giving input about the Volkswagen Clean Act settlement, that you are in way over your head, or cause your eyes to glaze over and move on to other things.

“The normal resident who is not a tech geek would not know about the quantifier and other things,” said Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “I did not even know what the quantifier was until very recently.”

The IEPA survey is not the easiest thing to find, either. There is no link to it on the IEPA website’s home page and without a direct link, you need to select “Air quality” under the “Citizens” drop-down menu and then click on “our main air quality page.” Then you click on “VW Settlement” on the right side of that page. Then you click on “VW Settlement Survey” under Navigation.” Then click on the “VW survey” link. Simple, right?

Illinois residents have until April 20 to give their input on how the $108 million the state will get in the Volkswagen settlement should be spent.

State Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) said at a hearing on the issue earlier this month that she was “appalled” that the extent of public input on the settlement was a one-month window to take an online survey.

“I wonder if our residents feel like they’ve had some kind of seat at the table,” Bush said. “I frankly have never seen a process like this where a policy is put together, the reports are ready, and we are giving the public and everyone else one month? This is a pretty big deal. It’s a lot of money.”

As of right now, the survey is the only way for Illinois residents to give input on the settlement funds.

Mudd said that promised public meetings have yet to materialize. She said environmental advocacy groups have only had one meeting with IEPA officials over the settlement money.

“We had one meeting last May — at our request — that brought a number of groups all together. We were assured by Alec Messina (director of the IEPA) that there would be numerous opportunities for public input, that there would be at least six meetings,” Mudd said. “Those meetings never happened.

“Until recently, it has only been those who knew enough about the settlement, those who asked for a meeting, and those persistent enough to get a meeting who have been able to give input.”

IEPA officials did not respond to Chronicle requests for information about the survey and public input.

Mudd said she is “disappointed both in the process and the substance of the IEPA plan.”

A $108 million state windfall stems from Volkswagen AG and certain of its North American subsidiaries entering into a multibillion-dollar settlement with the federal government for violations of the Clean Air Act. VW publicly admitted to installing “defeat devices” in certain diesel vehicles causing the vehicles to operate differently during emission testing compared to normal operation, circumventing federal vehicle emission standards.

The IEPA has proposed that 65 percent of the VW funds go toward off-road efforts to reduce air pollution, such as new engines for Metra trains.

Mudd said environmental groups are concerned with the IEPA plans to put 65 percent of the funds into off-road efforts and dedicate nothing for electric vehicle charging stations.

“Two-thirds for off-road? No other state has nearly that much in their plans for off-road,” Mudd said. “Virtually no one is ignoring the 15 percent allowed for electric vehicle charging stations.”

Mudd said the IEPA has dropped the ball in getting public input.

“They have not really done the job in reaching out,” Mudd said. “Minnesota posted its final plan. They had a number of public meetings, used their website for residents’ comments and responses to what (they) heard. Resident input clearly impacted their plan. I wish the IEPA would do that now.”

Mudd said that although some states are finishing up their plan for expending VW settlement funds, the IEPA could still get the public input it promised.

“It is not as if they are under a fast time line to do this,” Mudd said. “States have 10 years to spend the money. There is no reason to wait so long and then rush the process at the end.”

She noted that some states started the input process well over a year ago and have worked through the process.

“The IEPA has not done anything publicly,” Mudd said. “Having a very abbreviated, constricted process now does not make sense.”



The IEPA survey is not the easiest thing to find, either. First, go to the IEPA website:, then:

  • Select “Air quality” under the “Citizens” drop-down menu;
  • Click on “our main air quality page;”
  • Click on “VW Settlement” on the right side of that page;
  • Then you click on “VW Settlement Survey” under Navigation;”
  • Then click on the “VW survey”


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