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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Detroit Auto Show | Kathryn Lee

Marcus and Elisabeth made their way to the Detroit Auto Show over the weekend. As they drove across the country, on a mission to return their TDI to Volkswagen corporate headquarters in Virginia, the couple has been making stops along the way. The just missed Mathias Mueller as he toured the US, stopping at the Detroit Auto Show to try to make amends with customers. Saturday was the first day the show was open to the public. Marcus and Elisabeth first met with press across the street of the event and then went into building, heading straight to the Volkswagen booth.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 2

Twelve proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $24 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending. These projects, some originally proposed decades ago, are either intended to address problems that do not exist or have serious negative impacts on surrounding communities that undercut their value.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Red Light for Highway Boondoggles | Sean Doyle

Across the country, states are poised to spend billions of dollars on wasteful highway projects -- new construction and expansions -- exhausting limited funds that could be better spent on repair and maintenance or put toward critical investment in transit, biking, and pedestrian options that better meet current and future needs.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Amtrak Derailment Highlights Need to Fund Rail and Transit as House Votes to Cut $260 Million in Amtrak Budget

While the exact causes of the Amtrak derailment await further investigation, the tragedy highlights the need for Congress to adequately fund rail and transit. 

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Who Pays For Roads?

Many Americans believe that drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use through gas taxes and other user fees. That has never been true, and it is less true now than at any other point in modern times. Today, general taxes paid by all tax-payers cover nearly as much of the cost of building and maintaining highways as the gas tax and other fees paid by drivers.

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

NEW SURVEY SHOWS OHIO MILLENNIALS WANT TO LOCATE IN CITIES WHERE DRIVING IS OPTIONAL WITH MULTIPLE TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS

A new study presenting a survey of 500 students at 10 of the state’s public and private universities sheds lights on an overlooked issue in debates over Ohio’s “brain drain.”  The report Searching for a Better Ride, from the Ohio PIRG Education Fund shows that the majority of students surveyed value the importance to live in a place where they could get around without driving after graduation. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Summary of Convening Organized on the Future of Driving

U.S. PIRG helped convene a dialogue at the Brookings Institution in January 2015 with leading experts and state and federal officials about future directions in the volume of driving, and what changing trends mean for effecient transportation policy.

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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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Report | NJPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Caution on New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway Deal

A deal to “monetize” the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway should not be signed if it violates the public interest. No deal should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles: public control, fair value, no deal longer than 30 years, state-of-the-art safety and maintenance standards, complete transparency and accountability, and no budget gimmicks.

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Blog Post | Transportation

House Transportation Bills Strikes First as Tragedy, Then as Dangerous Farce

The House introduced additional legislation proposing that new revenue for the Transportation Fund would come through increased volumes of oil drilling and that public transit would be kicked out of the transportation fund. This breaks with three decades of public transit being supported by a small portion of the federal gas tax. The House measure would instead funnel all these funds to highways, and leave mass transit to search for new money from Congress at a time when debt reduction rules require massive cuts to the general budget. If you were trying to make America as addicted to oil as possible, you might design legislation like this.

 

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Blog Post | Transportation

Private High-Speed Rail: A Dangerous Fantasy

The politics of high-speed rail can be bizarre. Few people actually oppose connecting our cities with fast intercity trains. Most of the industrialized world has already shown that the idea is popular and works well. The politicians that do the most to prevent high-speed rail generally claim to be fans of bullet trains who just want the task to be left to the private sector.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Needed: Sane Rule About the Privatization of Infrastructure

You'd think the only reason American infrastructure lacks funding was rules preventing private businesses from throwing money at it. Last week Congress introduced a couple of bills to solve this imaginary problem and one that would set some ground rules to protect the public.

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