A $5.1 million legal settlement won by Maine against German automaker Volkswagen Group and its affiliates is being used to fund a new statewide rebate program for buyers of hybrid and electric vehicles.

The program, announced Friday by Gov. Janet Mills, will provide rebates of $1,000 to $2,000 on qualifying plug-in hybrid and battery-powered electric vehicles, with higher rebates being offered to low-income households and government entities, including tribal governments. The initiative is called the EV Accelerator Program and is being administered by the quasi-state agency Efficiency Maine Trust.

According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the new rebate can be combined with federal incentives to provide a total of up to $9,500 off the price of a plug-in vehicle in Maine. It said states offering financial incentives have experienced 15 to 25 percent higher sales of plug-in vehicles compared with the national average.

“Cars and trucks are the largest source of climate change pollution in Maine and contribute to unhealthy air conditions across our state,” the council’s clean energy director, Dylan Voorhees, said in a statement. “The new rebate announced today will help prompt more Mainers to save money and reduce pollution by choosing to drive electric.”

In 2017, then-Attorney General Mills won the settlement after taking legal action against Volkswagen and its affiliates Audi and Porsche for violating state environmental laws and emissions through their marketing and sales of light vehicles in Maine. The state also received an additional $21 million settlement as part of a federal lawsuit against Volkswagen over the company’s diesel engines that illegally produced high levels of greenhouse gases.

Mills announced in March that Maine would put the $5.1 million settlement toward subsidies to encourage residents and companies to buy electric vehicles. She said the state also would add at least 50 public vehicle charging stations as part of the initiative. Funds from the other settlement have been earmarked for other energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction programs.

Mills said in a statement Friday that the rebate program’s goal is to displace the use of inefficient internal combustion engines in Maine with the increased use of high-efficiency electric vehicles in order to reduce harmful emissions including nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide.

“Maine people shell out $5 billion a year to out-of-state fossil fuel companies, and a lot of that money is spent on gas for vehicles that just becomes carbon dioxide pumped into our atmosphere,” Mills said. “We can do better. It is time to usher in the next generation of technologies that will move our state towards a renewable future.”

The EV Accelerator program is offering instant rebates to Maine residents at the point of purchase through participating automobile dealerships, the statement said.

“Maine’s new car dealers welcome the EV rebate program as an assist to their customers looking at this new and exciting technology,” Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association, said in the statement. “Rebate-eligible vehicles are currently available, and many more will be coming as manufacturers expand their EV production.”

Program details and lists of eligible vehicles and participating dealerships are available online at efficiencymaine.com/EV.

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