PHOENIX — More than four-dozen Arizona school districts are getting new school buses at no cost to taxpayers.
The tab for the 142 new buses is coming from the state’s $57 million share of a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen over the sale of its so-called “clean-diesel” vehicles. Gov. Doug Ducey had ultimate authority on how to divide the money, within certain court-approved guidelines.
More districts may benefit in the future. The governor’s office said it is still reviewing the applications from another 63 districts to see if they qualify.
What’s getting the state all this money is a decision by Volkswagen in 2016 to settle a lawsuit about the marketing of vehicles under the VW, Audi and Porsche labels as having lower pollution. It turned out that really wasn’t the case.
Instead, VW engineers had installed a “defeat device,” programmed to go into a low-emission mode during testing but then spew out pollutants at much higher — and illegal — levels when actually on the road to improve performance.
VW eventually pleaded guilty to three felonies, including defrauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The company agreed to $4.3 billion in penalties and another $4.9 billion to address pollution from the supposedly low-emission diesel vehicles.
Arizona’s $57 million share was not unrestricted. Instead, it had to be spent on projects to reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen, the very pollutants the VW vehicles were spitting out above permissible levels.
That’s where the plan for new school buses comes in.
State officials figure that for each aging school bus replaced, those with at least 100,000 miles, emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by nearly 1.4 tons over that vehicle’s anticipated 12-year life.
And Dawn Wallace, the governor’s education adviser, said 80 percent of the money awarded is going to school districts in areas which already are in danger of violating clean-air standards.
Don’t look for those old school buses to be sold or given away. The settlement requires that vehicles being replace be made inoperable through a hole in the engine block and a cut in the frame.