In 2015, the federal government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Air Resources Board sued Volkswagen for falsifying air emissions tests. As a result, the company is responsible for a $14.7 billion settlement. Tribes across the country received approximately $50 million of these funds. Citizen Potawatomi Nation was awarded $554,541 in the second funding cycle and used the VW Settlement Trust funds to purchase five new, low-diesel emission trucks as a settlement beneficiary.
“As we see evidence of climate change, low-emission diesel, that’s the most — I think — practical and important move that anybody can make,” said CPN Environmental Coordinator Lexi Freeman. “I think this is a good jumping point to start replacing vehicles using this money.”
CPN is always looking to advance public safety and health by reducing its carbon footprint.
“We did an air emissions study … where it showed that even though we are an attainment for these greenhouse gases, we had two exceedances where we went above air quality thresholds,” said CPN Self-Governance Director of Transportation and Environment Shawn Howard. “By the Tribe purchasing new vehicles with new technology and equipment to reduce that, it actually helps our area stay in attainment.”
When the air quality goes below the federal standards, CPN must implement costly governmental and engineering controls. Using the settlement funds to replace older, less-efficient Tribal vehicles with those that feature new technology could decrease the Nation’s carbon-lowering expenditures.
“With the VW settlement, you had to replace diesel vehicles that met certain criteria, and you had to replace them with a vehicle that was being used in a similar manner,” Freeman said.
After becoming a settlement beneficiary, staff reviewed CPN’s vehicle and equipment inventory to identify those that were eligible, prioritizing its fleet for replacement based on age, use and general wear and tear.
“That’s when we sat down with the directors and asked which vehicles they needed to be replaced the most,” she added.
The Nation decommissioned five trucks used by the mechanical, construction, electrical and housekeeping departments.
“The settlement requires that we put a 3-inch hole in the engine block, and we disable the chassis and then we’ll scrap those parts,” Freeman said.
The settlement funds replaced those vehicles with one Ford F-550 Service Body Crew Cab, one F-550 11” Flatbed Crew Cab, one F-750 2,000 gallon water truck, one National 8100D Peterbuilt 348 crane truck and one Ford F-650 box truck. Departments across CPN received new, lower emission vehicles by spring 2020, and the Nation is eligible for future funding cycles to replace more in the coming years.
While the CPN Environmental Department oversaw the project, success required input from departments and entities Tribe-wide, including Tribal administration, accounting, legal and purchasing.
“Everybody was on it. Everyone did their part, and it’s just nice to see us all work together to make this happen for the Tribe,” Howard said.
CPN Purchasing Director Stacey Bennett is thankful her department had a hand in helping fellow CPN employees increase efficiency.
“It’s rewarding to be able to help these guys get new units,” Bennett said. “It’s kind of like a kid in a candy store. You give a guy a new truck that they get to work with every day; they’re pumped.
“It’s also going to save a lot of money,” she continued. “We’re having to do a lot of maintenance on the existing vehicles, and just having brand new units to work with on a daily basis, that ensures that when they go out to do a project, it’s going to start — it’s going to run for many years and many miles.”
For questions or to request more information, please contact Lexi Freeman in the CPN Department of Environmental Protection at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 405-878-4829.