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Utilities and environmentalists call for Missouri to spend VW funds on electric vehicles

A charging Nissan Leaf.
A group of Missouri energy companies and environmental groups want the state to spend its funds from the 2016 Volkswagen settlement on building a statewide electric vehicle charging network and electrifying mass transit and school buses.

It's rare for utility companies and environmental groups to agree. But both want the state of Missouri to spend its share of last year's national Volkswagen settlement on electric vehicles and charging stations. 

After the German automaker agreed to spend billions to settle allegations of cheating  emissions standards, Missouri received $41.2 million. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has heldseveral meetings to determine how to spend the money.

At its fifth meeting to discuss the funds, the Missouri Electric Vehicle Collaborative, consisting of several state utility companies and environmental groups, proposed that $35 million be spent on replacing diesel engines with electric technology in school buses, mass transit buses and material handling equipment, such as forklifts.

Electric vehicles emit much less nitrogen oxide than  cars and trucks that use fossil fuels. The gas can contribute to smog, which at high levels can irritate lungs and cause respiratory problems. 

"Mass transit buses and school buses have a lot of diesel emissions that affect people very directly," said Andy Knott, a senior campaign representative at the Missouri Sierra Club. "Schoolchildren are exposed to diesel emissions on school buses. Schoolchildren suffer from high rates of asthma." 

However, driving electric vehicles can be challenging without access to charging stations. The group of utilities and environmentalists have also recommended that $6 million be spent on deploying light-duty charging stations to help alleviate "range anxiety," or the worry that motorists driving electric cars will run out of charge. 

The Missouri DNR has planned three more meetings to discuss how to use the funds in early 2018 and have tentatively planned to release a draft for public comment by March. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.