VW Settlement: FAQ

We’ve talked to program officials in a lot of states. Here are answers to some of the questions many of you are asking.

What kinds of online tools are available for collecting public input?

The short answer: lots of them. The slightly longer answer: it really depends on the complexity of your project and your budget. At the simple end, SurveyMonkey allows you to send 10-question surveys to 100 people for free. Conversely, many private-sector organizations rely on Qualtrics to gather feedback on products and services. Qualtrics is both more powerful and considerably more expensive than SurveyMonkey. Many companies make software for community engagement. Here’s a nice roundup of 52 of them. Features and pricing vary substantially from one to the next.

Most of these tools will require some degree of configuration and customization before they can track public comments on regulations.

One final alternative is our own Comment Coding and Response System. ERG’s CCRS is specifically designed for collecting public comments on rulemakings and other regulatory efforts. That means you’ll spend less time configuring software and more time learning from your data. Best of all, there’s no licensing fee for CCRS. Drop us a line to see CCRS in action.

Do I need to get my legislature involved in project decisions?

The settlement does not require your legislature’s involvement, though many state legislatures provide guidance on spending the trust funds. In California, for example, legislators are considering a bill that would require VW to allocate a portion of its infrastructure funds to disadvantaged communities.

Do I have to spend settlement funds all at once, or can I fund projects in “waves”?

There are no explicit requirements about when you have to fund projects, provided you meet a few formal restrictions outlined in the settlement. Specifically, you can’t spend more than 1/3 of your total funds in the first year, and you can’t spend more than 2/3 of your total funds in the first two years. At the end of 10 years, you must submit a report certifying that you have spent at least 80 percent of your allocated funding.

Do I have to use competitive bidding to determine which projects to fund?

The settlement does not require this, but it does require your governor to certify that you will follow all of your state procurement rules. Moreover, there are plenty of reasons to consider adding a competitive bidding requirement to your own policies and procedures. For instance, having funds accessible through a fully open competitive process offers every stakeholder the opportunity to fund emission reduction projects — and a competitive process can help ensure that you identify the subset of projects that best meet your program’s objectives.

What are the key factors I need to consider in selecting projects for funding? Is cost-effectiveness one?

There are a variety of factors you may choose to consider, including NOx emission reductions, the cost-effectiveness of those reductions, and co-benefits like environmental justice or public health benefits. You have considerable latitude to incorporate your own priorities into your funding decisions.

Can I combine VW trust funds with other funding sources?

Yes, as long as the project complies with the requirements of the VW settlement agreement.

Should I spend funds as quickly as possible or should I spread out funding over a longer period?

Both approaches have merit. For example, some states have expressed interest in spending their funds within the first three years. That rapid spending of funds will deliver air quality benefits to your state sooner. The funds could also help address immediate priorities or provide an economic boost to a sluggish sector. On the other hand, waiting a few years to begin spending funds — as some states are considering — allows you to learn from the experiences of other states or to embrace emerging technologies that may be viable in the near future.

What deadlines apply to tribes wishing to access settlement funds?

September 1 is the first funding deadline. Unfortunately, we do not yet know the year. The settlement specifies that the first funding deadline is September 1 following the trust effective date, but that effective date has not yet been set. So funding may be available in 2017 or 2018. The settlement requires that the trustee establish a public-facing website that explains how tribes can access funds. That site has not yet been launched, but we will include a link to it when it is available.

Let us know if there are topics you would like us to address or if you have experiences you would like to see featured. You can contact us directly using the link below. We’ll share some of these new Q&A’s in our next issue.

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