By Mary Wisniewski

After many complaints from advocacy groups, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will hold three public outreach sessions on how it should spend $108 million from the Volkswagen pollution settlement.

The German carmaker agreed to pay more than $15 billion in settlements after admitting to installing secret software that allowed U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution. Some of that money is going to states for clean-air programs.

Advocacy groups like the Environmental Law and Policy Center have argued that the state could get the most pollution-fighting bang for the buck by putting 15 percent of its settlement share, or about $16.2 million, into plug-in charging stations for electric vehicles, and the rest into replacing diesel school and transit buses with electric versions.

But the Illinois EPA instead said in its current draft plan that it would spend most of the money on “off-road technology,” which would mean replacing older locomotive, ferry and tug diesel engines with newer, cleaner ones. Environmental groups complained that the state EPA came up with the plan without the same long comment period and public hearings provided by other states.

Now there will be a chance for three public hearings, and the draft plan’s details could change. The first will be at Illinois EPA headquarters in Springfield on May 23; the second at the St. Paul Baptist Church in East St. Louis on May 24; and the third at the James R. Thompson Center auditorium in Chicago on May 30. All will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.

State EPA Director Alec Messina said in a statement that his agency has received “extensive” public comments about the settlement funds, and that the draft plan for spending the money is a “living document that will continue to evolve as needed to benefit air quality and the health of Illinois residents.”



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