Skip to content

Tribal Clean Transportation:

The Volkswagen Settlement

The Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Environmental Mitigation Trust for Indian Tribe Beneficiaries (the "Indian Tribe Trust") was set up after VW was caught in 2015 cheating on emissions tests for Clean Air Act standards by programming their diesel cars to know when they were being tested, and reduce emissions to meet the standards. It was discovered that during normal driving conditions the cars actually produced up to 40 times the legal limit for air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which can be harmful to both human health and the environment. A portion of the record fine the company paid to the US government was set aside to fund state and tribal mitigation projects to reduce NOx emissions elsewhere to make up for the excess pollutants emitted by the cars, attempting to essentially undo the damage to air quality caused by VW's cheating.

VW Technical Assistance Program

ITEP was designated as the technical assistance provider in the Trust Agreement that established the Indian Tribe Trust. Over the course of four annual funding cycles ITEP’s team conducted outreach to inform Tribes about the Indian Tribe Trust and how it might benefit their communities, worked with nearly 200 Tribes to answer questions about the program, and helped tribal staff complete the documents required to participate in the program from start to finish.

Tribal Projects

Since the Indian Tribe Trust began in 2018, 92 individual Tribes applied for and received over $51 million from the VW settlement to replace old, high-emitting diesel vehicles and generators, and install electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Of the 301 vehicles and generators that were replaced, 75% were medium or large heavy-duty trucks, 16% were buses and 8% were generators. Eleven of the new trucks and buses purchased are electric or hybrid vehicles, and the funding also supported the installation of 89 light duty EV charging stations on tribal lands. These purchases are further reducing emissions of NOx and other harmful air pollutants, and helping Tribes transition to a cleaner energy future with less dependence on fossil fuels. In all, the tribal program is estimated to have removed approximately 1450 tons of NOx over the remaining life of the vehicles and generators replaced (not including reductions from the EV charging stations).

Current Status

By the end of 2021 the four funding cycles established in the Trust Agreement were complete. There are some funds remaining in the Tribal Trust account, however, and on October 23, 2023 the Trustee announced a program to distribute the remaining money to all 119 designated beneficiaries of the VW Settlement. Funds will be allocated on a population basis as in the previous funding rounds, with allocations for each beneficiary Tribe announced by December 5, 2023. If they want to participate, Tribes will then have until December 20 to opt into the program by completing some simple paperwork certifying that they will use the funds for environmental mitigation projects that reduce emissions of NOx. Participating Tribes will have 18 months to spend the money and submit a final report to the Trustee on how they used the funds. ITEP will continue to provide technical assistance as needed until all the funds are dispensed and the program is closed out.

For questions please contact program manager Mark Daniels, at (