Chuck Carr Brown

Tri-City Helping Hearts Foundation honored Bishop Jerry T. Hebert of Morgan City, left, as citizen of the year Saturday during its annual banquet. Presenting the award is Foundation President Herman Hartman. Hebert is a bishop in the Church of God in Christ United and presides over three churches in Louisiana. He is also president of World Mission Inc. and has worked for that organization for 25 years. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

Secretary: State introduces cleaner fuel school buses

A federal legal settlement with Volkswagen is helping provide school districts in Louisiana funds to buy alternative-fueled school buses that may have long-term benefits in the state, a state official says.

Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, was guest speaker Saturday during the 15th Annual Tri-City Helping Hearts Foundation Banquet. The foundation is a non-profit organization that helps people in the area who need financial assistance to cover burial expenses of loved ones.

Volkswagen’s $4.3 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016 has the potential to positively affect people in Louisiana, including St. Mary Parish, Brown said.

That settlement occurred after officials discovered that Volkswagen had been underestimating emissions from their diesel engine vehicles. Each state got a share of the settlement money based on how many Volkswagen diesel engine vehicles were in that state at the time.

Louisiana received an $18 million share of the settlement. Officials with the state departments of Environmental Quality, Transportation and Development, and Natural Resources decided to use part of the money to replace old diesel engine trucks for DOTD.

Then, DNR and DEQ made the decision to pool the remaining money together to provide local school systems funds to buy alternative fuel school buses, Brown said.

Those buses will be powered by propane, compressed natural gas or high efficiency diesel, he said. St. Mary Parish wasn’t among the seven school systems that submitted requests for the first round of buses, but Brown expects St. Mary may do so next year. DEQ will provide the funding for the next two years to local school systems.

“What we want to do is show them (school officials) the efficiency, the way it actually has an impact on your air quality and long-term maintenance of these vehicles,” he said.

Brown hopes once school district officials in Louisiana see the benefits of alternative fuel buses, they will continue to replace their school buses with those types of buses.

Brown became department secretary in 2016 after Gov. John Bel Edwards asked Brown to serve in his administration. Brown had previously served as the department’s assistant secretary for environmental services during former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s time in office.

Brown left the Department of Environmental Quality in 2008 to work in the private sector. Brown and Edwards are both Amite natives, and Brown’s decision to serve in Edwards’ administration was due, in part, to his respect for Edwards’ father, a former Tangipahoa Parish sheriff.

He also wanted to serve people of Louisiana.

“They deserve to have somebody that has a vested interest at heart and who will make decisions based on what’s best for the citizens of Louisiana,” Brown said.

His philosophy of service includes providing environmental education, access to decision makers and trust in the decisions.

Industrial companies have an obligation to people who live near company facilities to enhance community members’ quality of life, Brown said.

The Department of Environmental Quality has improved its efficiency and decreased its employees from 1,008 in 2008 to 687 in 2016. The department receives its funding fees and fines paid by companies in Louisiana. In 2016, the Legislature passed a 10 percent “across the board” increase in fees so that the department could continue to effectively operate, he said.

“We don’t do any less work, and we still get the job done,” Brown said.

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