As part of its emissions cheating penance, Volkswagen AG previously agreed to support clean vehicles by injecting a juicy $2 billion into green initiatives in the United States. A whopping $800 million of that sum was reserved for California. On Thursday, state legislators pressed the automaker to spend electric charging infrastructure funds in low-income areas, passing a bill included in a budget package supported by Governor Jerry Brown.
The reasoning behind forcing VW to install more charging stations in disadvantaged communities is twofold. First, and most obviously, is the fact that poorer neighborhoods typically don’t receive the same level of infrastructure advancement as affluent or high traffic areas. In fact, they’re probably the last place the state would bother installing EV charging stations. Secondly, it’s a good way to keep this punishment from becoming a business opportunity.
Criticism arose when rival automakers realized Volkswagen’s charging network could become profitable and give it an early advantage in a competitive new market, especially if it could handpick the sites.
Volkswagen initially proposed spending $120 million on about 400 highway and community charging stations by 2019. However, the locations it chose were often the same pieces of real estate competitors may have desired. While these stations would definitely have seen regular use, state officials have made it clear they want to promote clean cars in poorer communities.
Last month, the California Air Resources Board told VW to “make every attempt” to reserve 35 percent of its first 30-month investment cycle for disadvantaged communities “disproportionately affected by air pollution,” according to Reuters. Still, fears remained that Volkswagen would simply ignore the plea.
The California bill makes that 35 percent mandatory and requires the board of directors to approve all plans relating to the charging network to be approved at public hearings. It also provides additional oversight for VW’s Electrify America — the unit responsible for the infrastructure project. While we cannot authoritatively say Volkswagen would not have adhered to CARB’s initial appeal to support economically downtrodden areas, Electrify America’s photo of a gentleman wearing trendy salmon-colored slacks while charging his car suggests it might not have been their first priority. All things considered, California passing legalization on the matter was probably in its best interest.
Governor Brown has not yet signed the bill, though he has previously indicated his full support the budgeting package.
[Image: Electrify America]