PA given “F” Grade for spending Volkswagen settlement money

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Kelly Flanigan

Report card shows PA overwhelmingly spending VW money for dirty, climate-altering fossil fuel projects instead of clean electric vehicle technologies

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

[Harrisburg, PA] — With “National Drive Electric Week” kicking off across the country, two non-profit organizations released new information grading Pennsylvania officials for the state’s track record allocating its portion of the Volkswagen settlement funds. 

The report card, entitled The Volkswagen Settlement State Scorecard: Ranking the states on their plans for the VW Mitigation Trust Funds, was released today by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and the PennPIRG Education Fund. The groups gave Pennsylvania a grade of “F” for directing funds to prop up dirty fossil fuel transportation instead of investing in clean electric vehicle technology.  

Pennsylvania was tied with Delaware for the lowest grade in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“There is no question that we need cleaner vehicles on our roads–and there is no cleaner vehicle than an electric vehicle,” said Kelly Flanigan from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.  “Our report card shows that when it comes to spending the VW settlement money, Pennsylvania is not making the grade.”

The groups noted that this significant payout afforded the Commonwealth a crucial opportunity to transform its transportation system from one that relies on antiquated, dirty technologies of the 19th Century to one that relies on cleaner technologies of the 21st Century, but that the question is still out on if the state will tap into this opportunity.

“As we grow our Commonwealth it is vital that we focus significant resources on clean car and electric technology,” said State Senator Sharif Street. “As we work to reduce our carbon footprint, investment in electric car infrastructure will posit PA as a future leader in clean technology.”

“Transit riders and operators are disproportionately exposed to the health risks of diesel fumes,” Dean Mougianis, Pittsburghers for Public Transit board member. “By directing funding towards zero-emissions public transit infrastructure, Pennsylvania can improve the health of some of the most vulnerable residents of Allegheny County.”

Scores were based upon eight criteria related to how states are allocating their respective VW settlement funds: 

  • Are electric vehicles prioritized in the funding?
  • Are electric vehicles prioritized in stated plan goals?
  • Are electric buses prioritized?
  • Are diesel vehicles eligible for more than 15 percent of total award?
  • Are diesel vehicles ineligible for funding?
  • Are other “alternative fuel” vehicles, like compressed natural gas or propane, eligible for 15 percent of total award?
  • Is charging infrastructure eligible?
  • Is the state using 15 percent of its award on charging infrastructure projects?

Pennsylvania received positive marks on the report card for only two of the eight criteria, “is charging infrastructure eligible” and “is the state using 15 percent of its award on charging infrastructure projects?”

“The decisions we make today will be defining in our ability to address climate change, the most pressing threat facing the planet today,” noted Flanigan. “It’s crucial that our elected officials are moving aggressively to implement all the tools at their fingertips to do everything in their power to reduce global warming pollution for now and future generations.”

“We are in a time where tackling climate change needs to be at the top of everyone’s priority list,” said State Senator Katie Muth. “The funds awarded from the VW settlement gave PA the chance to increase investment in environmentally friendly transportation options. We need to ensure that the momentum from this funding continues to remove us from outdated, polluting diesel technology and transition to utilizing only clean energy for transportation.”

“This is not just something that is a luxury item for those that can afford it, every internal combustion engine that we can get off the road is an investment in our future,” said Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Phila).  

After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Pennsylvania’s portion of the settlement was $118 million, the fifth highest payout in the nation. 

“VW breached the trust of its customers and put the health of the public and the environment at risk,” said Emma Horst-Martz from the PennPIRG Education Fund. “But from its deception emerged an opportunity for states like Pennsylvania to put a down payment on the transition to a cleaner and healthier all-electric transportation future.”

The study comes just weeks after Governor Wolf announced $8.5 million in awards from the settlement, the majority of which are going to new diesel projects. 


The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is a statewide non-profit environmental group working  for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife, and open spaces, and a livable climate. For more information about this or our other projects, visit

PennPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.