SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will receive an additional $7.5 million in the Volkswagen settlement, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday, bringing the total of mitigation funds flowing into the state to nearly $40 million.
Against the backdrop of shiny, new clean-fuel buses that cost between $120,000 and $140,000, Herbert said the additional money will pay for the replacement of 100 of the dirty diesel-burning vehicles in the state's aging fleet.
That new award will supplement $20 million already directed from the settlement to replace at least 433 school buses circa 2006 or older — an initiative pushed for years by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.
Handy said he's made it his mission to see as many of those school buses as possible replaced, and he was all smiles at a media event Tuesday at Ensign Elementary School, 775 E. 12th Ave.
The mitigation money for states, as well as buybacks to individual consumers, is part of a 2016 settlement with the German automaker and the U.S. Department of Justice in what lawyers described as the largest deal in history reached as the result of a class-action suit.
Federal prosecutors said Volkswagen instituted cheat controls on its vehicles that would activate to show federally compliant emissions during tests but turn off while on the road. When the controls were off, the vehicles would emit as much as 40 times the permitted federal thresholds, the justice department said.
The automaker got away with the use of the technology for seven years until the International Council on Clean Transportation caught it.
Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said the $7.5 million is part of the settlement involving air pollution mitigation for the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder diesel vehicles, of which there are 7,877 in Utah.
"They dirtied our air, so this will help us clean the air," Giani said. "It is a win-win."
Another settlement was announced earlier this month for the 3.0-liter V6 TDI-powered vehicles, but Giani said she has not yet been informed of what money may becoming Utah's way.
Handy's resolution, HCR5, that supports dedicating some of the settlement money for school bus replacements, was among nine pieces of legislation passed during the 2017 session of the Utah Legislature dealing with air quality.
Herbert conducted a ceremonial signing ceremony for the resolutions or laws, indicating that the measures — which received broad, bipartisan support — demonstrate the state's ongoing commitment to reduce air pollution.
"The Legislature and leaders in the state and community really do care about air quality," the governor said, emphasizing to students in the crowd that Utah enjoys a booming economy that also brings online more cars, trucks and businesses to pollute the air.
From 2002 to 2014, Utah's population increased by 26 percent, or 600,000 people, Herbert said, but air pollution dropped by 30 percent, or a 46 percent reduction in pollution per capita.
"We can't rest on our laurels," he said, noting that there's much work left to do.
Among the new air quality laws featured in the signing ceremony were Rep. Steve Eliason's HB96, which directs the recovery of petroleum vapor from gasoline cargo tanks holding 1,000 gallons or more of fuel. Eliason, R-Sandy, perked up the young crowd when he not only pointed out the "toxic" nature of the vapors, but the fact that they can be explosive and should be contained.
Other measures included a resolution urging consumers to buy a car with a higher smog rating; a law governing access to solar panels in neighborhoods operating under rules from a homeowners association; new tax credits for refineries that switch to low-sulfur Tier 3 fuel; and a law establishing a new air quality policy board.
Herbert also touted HB405, sponsored by Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, to provide incentives for hydrogen fuel production.
The incentives will foster the development of a main production plant in Carbon County and ancillary facilities throughout the state that Herbert said will someday support employment for more than 8,000 people.
Sagers called hydrogen fuel "the new revolution" in powering vehicles and cleaning the air.