Make VW Pay

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says Volkswagen designed some 567,000 "clean" diesel cars to violate the law. They built elaborate software, called a "defeat device," to turn on emissions controls during testing and turn them off during regular driving. By cheating the law, VW ripped off hundreds of thousands of consumers who thought they were buying clean vehicles. They put our health at risk, emitting as much as 40 times the legal limit of smog-forming pollutants.

Yet, their deceit and the subsequent settlement now represents a historic opportunity to drastically reduce the harmful pollution that makes us sick and accelerates climate change by providing an essential down payment toward the transition to a clean and modern 21st century transportation system. 

According to the terms of the VW settlement, agreed to by VW and the Department of Justice, VW will pay a total of $14.7 billion in damages for their role in violating federal clean air laws.

Out of the total settlement, $2.7 billion will be distributed to states specifically to reduce NOx pollution, a major component of diesel exhaust. Each state will be required to ask for the funds and to develop a plan for how the money will be used to reduce NOx emissions. 
 
NOx poses a serious threat to human health and has been shown to aggravate and even contribute to the development of respiratory illnesses. NOx is also a key component of smog, which has similar respiratory and health impacts and contributes to acid rain. In addition, diesel exhaust, which contains NOx, carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter, and other pollutants, was classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2012.
 
Given the unique challenges and opportunities in each state, the settlement leaves a good amount of flexibility in how the money may be used. However, that flexibility presents its own challenges, opening up the possibility of squandering the money on older, dirtier technologies like diesel and natural gas, while forgoing clean, electric alternatives. Such a move would represent a massive missed opportunity to transition to a cleaner, healthier and modern all-electric system, while only realizing marginal pollution reduction benefits. 
 
Transitioning to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century. Therefore, it is essential that these funds be invested wisely.
 
Ensuring that the funds are used wisely will result in several distinct benefits including, but not limited to:
  • Drastically reducing NOx, ground-level ozone (smog), and particulate matter;
  • Significantly reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions; 
  • Reducing long-term fuel consumption, maintenance, and operation costs of public fleet vehicles;
  • Adding needed stability to the price of energy inputs for vehicles;
  • Increasing public awareness and adoption of electric vehicles as cleaner alternatives to traditional gas-powered vehicles. 
To ensure this opportunity is not lost, we're educating the state agencies entrusted with these funds and urging them to spend the maximum allowable amount (15 percent) on electric vehicle charging infrastructure for the state’s highways, while investing the remaining funds on replacing outdated, dirty transit buses. We believe that this is the best possible use of the funds to reduce harmful pollution, lower costs and accelerate a market transformation to an all-electric, 21st century transportation system. 
 
Simultaneously, we are acting to educate and mobilize the public on this opportunity, and bring together likeminded advocates from across the political spectrum to do the same. As leaders in the movement to hold VW accountable, and because of our previous work to ensure a fair and beneficial settlement to VW consumers and the general public, we are uniquely positioned to continue leading this fight. However, if we do not act now, this opportunity will pass and state decision makers may use these funds in counterproductive ways, missing the opportunity to make a substantial down payment on a cleaner, healthier transportation system.
 

Issue updates

Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Report Back on the VW Road Trip | Mike Litt

After driving 1,671 miles from Colorado over the course of 12 days, the big day arrived -- Marcus and Elisabeth made it to headquarters on Tuesday at 2 PM. I joined them to return their 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI and deliver over 20,000 of our petitions to Volkswagen. 

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Media Hit | Transportation

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

This Couple Is Driving Cross-Country To Return Their Polluting Jetta To VW Headquarters

Upset that Volkswagen deceived them into buying a not-so-clean diesel, Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari are driving from Colorado to VW’s headquarters in Virginia to return their Jetta SportWagen TDI and drop off 20,000 petitions. I spoke with them about their journey. Here’s what they had to say.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

VW diesel owners on cross-country drive make Chicago stop to raise awareness

A Colorado couple on a cross-country drive to return their 2011 diesel Volkswagen Jetta to the automaker's U.S. headquarters in Virginia stopped in Chicago on Friday to raise awareness about the emissions scandal.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

Volkswagen diesel protesters stop by auto show

But now, after U.S. auto regulators revealed the automaker had installed software designed to cheat on emissions testing of VW diesel vehicles, the Boulder residents are driving cross-country to Volkswagen of America’s headquarters in Herndon, Va., to protest. They aren't the only ones.Greenpeace protesters have shown up in Europe to raise awareness of the issue as well.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG Statement: Until Ways & Means Solves Transportation Funding, Stop Building New Highways

At tomorrow's Ways and Means hearing on funding for transportation, Chairman Ryan should declare a pause to federal funding of new highway lanes until Congress figures out a long-term fix to fund transportation. 

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Highway Expansion Projects Stall Under Growing Scrutiny

As part of a pattern of costly highway expansion proposals stalling under increased scrutiny, a federal court in Wisconsin made history last week by forbidding the use of federal dollars to build a highway because no need had been demonstrated. The court put an abrupt halt to Governor Scott Walker’s plans to spend $146 million widening state Highway 23, holding the project ineligible for federal funding. The court cited inadequate evidence in state travel forecasts or recent traffic counts, adding doubt whether other highway expansion proposals around the country are really needed.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Punts for 33rd Time in Six Years on Federal Transportation Spending, then Leaves Town

 With Congress having just passed another short-term transportation patch to extend current transportation law until the end of July, members left town on recess. The new patch marks the 33rd time in the last six years that Congress has relied upon a short-term extension of prior legislation for transportation funding, rather than find consensus on a long-term bill.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Federal Data Show Rail Travel Almost 20 Times Safer than Driving Highlights Need to Invest in Improved Amtrak

While last week’s tragic Amtrak train derailment has prompted new questions about rail safety, federal data show that intercity rail is among the safest ways to travel.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Should Enable Amtrak to Travel Faster than 100 mph

Statement by John Olivieri, 21st Century Transportation Campaign Director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group on the May 12th Amtrak derailment along a curved stretch of track near Philadelphia. Reports indicate the train was traveling 106 miles per hour on a curve designated as safe for travel at 50 mph.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Better Way to Go

This report shows why rail, rapid buses and other forms of public transit must play a more prominent role in America's future transportation system. America has grown more dependent on car travel with each passing year.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Derailed By Debt

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) faces an uncertain financial future over the next five years. With debt service payments increasing, along with other costs, the MBTA will face sizable budget gaps forcing the Authority to choose among unhealthy options to close these structural deficits. These options primarily include: further dramatic fare increases, service reductions, or more borrowing.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Road Privatization

Privatization of toll roads is a growing trend. During 2007, sixteen states had some privatized road project formally proposed or underway. Although offering a short-term infusion of cash, privatization of existing toll roads harms the long-term public interest. It relinquishes important public control over transportation policy while failing to deliver the value comparable to the tolls that the public will be forced to pay over the life of the deal.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Finding Solutions to Fund Transit

The public need and demand for transit will grow sharply in the future and transportation funding must become better targeted to future needs. This paper explains why lawmakers should turn to new dedicated revenues to provide long-term solutions while increasing market efficiency and reducing social costs. Legislators should avoid short-term band aids from the general budget or one-time gimmicks such as road privatization.

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Report | TexPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Six Public Interest Principles for Considering Private Toll Roads in Texas

Plans for the state of Texas to sign concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of dangers for the public interest. Giving long-term control of our roads to a private operator and granting them future toll revenues is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. Regardless of whether a deal is with a public or private operator, no concession should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles.

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Video Blog | Transportation

Webinar On "A New Direction" Report

Webinar on the report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future."
 

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Blog Post | Transportation

A Trillion Fewer Driving Miles?

Transportation policy needs to focus on whether the youth-trend toward less driving since 2004 is the new normal.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Five Factors Will Determine Whether TIFIA Will Fund Transit

"TIFIA," the federal transportation loan program was super sized in the recent transportation law. New rules make the program even more of a slush fund for private toll roads, while others provide possibility for long-overdue public transit expansion. This blog appeared in slightly condensed form at StreetsBlog.

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Blog Post | Transportation

New TIFIA Rules Will Hurt the Public

This commentary, cross-posted on the National Journal Transportation Expert blog, explains why the new rules for the greatly expanded federal transportation loan program will encourage private toll roads at the expense of transit and everything else because it ignores the important indirect costs and benefits of transportation investments.

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Blog Post | Tax, Transportation

Senate Transportation Bill Stretches Dollars by Ending Hidden Subsidies and Cracking Down on Tax Dodgers

The Senate transportation bill doesn't transform the way America invests in transportation, but it finds some good ways to save money and increase performance within an austerity budget

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