Socorro City Hall

The City of Socorro has been tapped to receive six new natural gas vehicles as part of the $7.3 million federal settlement with Volkswagen to go toward community emission reduction projects. New Mexico Environmental Department designated this third and final round of federal settlement funding for diesel emission reduction projects throughout New Mexico.

Lena Chavez, the city’s Administrative Assistant/Assistant City Administrator, said $1.9 million has been allocated to Socorro toward the purchase of six trucks for the Public Utilities Department.

“We are going to be getting three trash trucks and three dump trucks,” Chavez said. “The new trucks will be environmentally friendly. All six of them will be CNG fuel. Compressed natural gas.”

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and VW reached a federal settlement after VW admitted to installing emissions defeat devices on diesel passenger vehicles that impaired their emission control systems and caused emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution. The NMED EPA learned that the illegal software allowed the onboard computer to detect when the car is under official testing conditions and to run the exhaust after-treatment system (NOx catalyst) only under those conditions. But those emissions controls were not fully engaged on the road, allowing cars to spew nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times the levels permitted under the Clean Air Act.

Socorro and other entities in the state will share $7.3 million to purchase 29 new electric transit buses, electric and alternate-fueled school buses and shuttle buses, and alternate-fueled and clean diesel solid waste and public works vehicles.

The applications were evaluated based on several criteria including reduction of emissions, environmental justice and impacted population, and cost-effectiveness.

“We actually started the paperwork of applying back in December 2021,” Chavez said. “In July we received notification of the award in a letter from the state saying that we are approved for funding.”

The city will be replacing its diesel trucks with trucks that run on near-zero compressed natural gas.

In announcing the funding, Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the $7.3 million will pay to replace 29 vehicles statewide. “These cleaner industrial vehicles will eliminate more than 15 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions that contribute to ozone pollution while improving air quality in the communities in which they operate,” Kenney said. “Reducing NOx emissions promotes healthier communities by reducing premature deaths, hospitalizations for cardiovascular illness, hospitalizations for respiratory illness, and emergency room visits, yielding billions in health benefits.”

Other entities involved in the funding include Albuquerque Transit, Santa Fe solid waste, Las Cruces solid waste, San Juan County, UNM and Santa Fe Public Schools.

In Socorro’s case, the diesel or regular fuel trucks being replaced have been in service as far back as the mid-1990s. Or longer. “We’ve been using vehicles from the late 1980s I think,” Chavez said.

Once the city acquires the CNG trucks, the old ones must be taken off the road and destroyed.

“They can no longer be used,” she said. “The state wants to ensure that they are no longer on the road. We have to destroy the engines in them and then they could be scrapped.

“We’re very excited to receive this funding,” Chavez said. “Now we have to find the vehicles.”