Late last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced that it had approved the first of four plans for Volkswagen to invest $800 million in zero-emission infrastructure, outreach and electric vehicle access for citizens who live in disadvantaged communities. The first phase, which will total approximately $200 million, will be used for various projects including an increase of electric car charging stations and even zero-emission ridesharing programs within the Golden State.
CARB researchers had been instrumental in holding Volkswagen accountable for the diesel emissions cheating scandal that rocked the company, and the global automobile sector, almost two years ago. The fallout over the company’s “defeat devices,” installed in order to shirk mandated emissions testing in many automobiles, led to countless class-action lawsuits and cost Volkswagen tens of billions of dollars in fines and vehicle retrofits. Backlash targeted at diesel vehicles, long touted to be more efficient while expelling fewer emissions, has continued – the United Kingdom, for example, recently announced a long-term ban on diesel (and gasoline) fueled vehicles.
Data suggested that many of California’s poorer air quality concentrates in the state’s poorer communities, and therein lies where much of Volkswagen’s work in California will unfold over the next several years.
The automaker established a subsidiary, Electrify America, which will oversee much of Volkswagen’s $2 billion investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure across the U.S. The organization has chosen Sacramento as one of its first of “Green Cities,” in which it will launch various zero-emission vehicle initiatives that seek to improve access to local residents while offering them a better quality of life via improved mobility options and improved air quality. A second Green City will be selected by Electrify America during a later phase of the program.
The CARB-Electrify America partnership will complement similar state programs, which seek to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations and zero-emission public transportation in poorer state regions such as the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to Sacramento, other underserved communities expected to benefit from this program will be in Fresno, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego.
The argument for focusing on poorer neighborhoods is that they are often located near the state’s busiest intersections and freeways – and at the same time, few consumers will buy an electric car if they cannot find a place to recharge it. To that end, CARB had instructed Electrify America to resubmit its proposal earlier this year, saying its plan to be more inclusive of disadvantaged neighborhoods did not go far enough; as a result, Fresno, the state’s fifth-largest city (and one notorious for bad air quality), was added to the zero-emission plan’s mix.
As this plan expands over the next decade, Electrify America expects 35 percent of these programs to launch in poorer communities – necessary if electric cars and infrastructure will ever become truly “mainstream” and be part of the transportation fabric in areas outside wealthier enclaves in the Bay Area and Southern California. Watch for more charging stations to appear at locations including neighborhood community centers, multi-family residential complexes, commercial and retail locations, office parks and municipal parking lots and garages. In the meantime, Volkswagen and Electrify America say they seek proposals nationwide for zero-emission vehicle programs and electric car charging stations.
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