“If you think it’s the existential threat posed by climate change, then you’d want to spend the settlement money on electric school buses,” Mr. Adler, a former E.P.A. official, continued. “But diesel engines can be very dirty, and replacing them with newer diesels is much cheaper.”
E.V. advocates concede that battery technology for heavy trucks is embryonic, but they say that’s why the VW settlement money is important: It can push early adoption.
“Battery electric and hydrogen technology have momentum in the marketplace,” said Cristiano Façanha, global director at CALSTART, which works to further zero-emission technology.
Tesla Motors has announced an electric semitrailer truck with 500-mile range, and orders are being taken, but the date for first deliveries has been pushed back to 2021. In September, General Motors announced a strategic partnership with Nikola, a maker of electric and zero-emission fuel-cell heavy trucks, but Nikola’s technology has since come under scrutiny.
The states are making sharply divergent decisions about where their settlement money is going, under guidelines that give them a fair amount of leeway. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group developed a scorecard for the state plans, based on its conviction that spending the money on diesel or other fossil-fuel technology would be a “wasted opportunity.”
Washington State and Hawaii received A-plus grades, and Rhode Island and Vermont were rated A. California, Massachusetts and New York got B’s, but many states fared poorly: 21 plus Washington, D.C., were rated D, and 14 plus Puerto Rico failed (meaning they did not put a priority on any electric projects).
“Our argument is that we have to think in the long term, and we can’t continue to double-down on the same technologies that got us into these problems in the first place,” said Matt Casale, director of environment campaigns at U.S. PIRG and a co-author of the study. He added that many states with low grades were replacing diesels that would have been retired anyway through the normal procurement process, so there was no net gain from the settlement funds.