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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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

New Report: President Biden’s first year in office marks progress on numerous environmental fronts

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Progress Report: President Biden’s First Year

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure bill will mean cleaner air, water and energy for U.S.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted 228-206 to build a bridge to a brighter future by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Friday. This major bipartisan package will improve our transportation and power infrastructure and ensure clean water and broadband access across the United States over the coming decades. 

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

New report: More than one in six Americans experienced greater than 100 days of polluted air in 2020

More than one in six Americans, 58.4 million people, suffered through more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Trouble in the Air

More than one in six Americans, 58.4 million people, suffered through more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2020. Our report calls attention to the very real public health problems air pollution causes in both cities and rural areas across the country, such as asthma, heart issues, and premature death. It explains how global warming will make air pollution worse, and why tackling climate pollution has an impact on air quality. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Congressional committee moves forward on Build Back Better legislation, which tackles potent pollutants

WASHINGTON -- After a summer of record-breaking air pollution, heat waves and an ongoing public health crisis, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation this week to address many of the pollutants most damaging to human health and the environment. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Clean energy tax provisions could cut power sector emissions more than 60%

WASHINGTON -- The House Ways and Means Committee is debating legislation that could cut power sector emissions to between 64% and 73% below 2005 levels by 2031. Under the Build Back Better Act, tax incentives for such clean technologies as wind and solar, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles would be updated and extended through the end of the decade.

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PIRG, other consumer groups urge DOT Secretary Buttigieg to do more to protect consumers

Representatives of several leading U.S. consumer and traveler groups today met with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to urge action on the most pressing consumer protection priorities affecting consumers flying commercial airlines. It was the first time representatives of consumer groups were granted a meeting with a U.S. Secretary of Transportation in nearly five years.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure must be a good deal for our health

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center | Transportation

New report: 108 million Americans live in areas that experienced at least 100 days of polluted air in 2018

One-third of all Americans live in areas that suffered through at least 100 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Volkswagen Settlement State Scorecard

Every state, with the exception of Florida, has now published its plan to spend the money being received as part of the Volkswagen emissions violations settlement. This scorecard grades each state’s plan on how well it is designed to take full advantage of the opportunity to invest in transportation electrification.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund & Environment California Research and Policy Center | Transportation

Ready to Charge

Global warming is already impacting California in devastating ways. In 2018, wildfires ravaged the state, with the deadliest wildfire in history, the Camp Fire, killing at least 85 people, and the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state, the Mendocino Complex, burning almost half a million acres. For nearly seven years, the state has been experiencing a drought, which has greatly impacted agriculture and water resources. At the same time, rising sea levels threaten coastal communities with flooding, erosion and mudslides.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Climate Solutions from Day One

New governors are getting ready to take office in 20 states, from Florida to Alaska. As America’s newly elected governors prepare to take on their states’ biggest challenges, they should prioritize taking bold action on the greatest challenge of our time: climate change.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

America's infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars' worth of new and expanded highways that do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from repairs and 21st century priorities. This report profiles nine highway projects that epitomize the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Blog Post | Transportation

PIRG advocates champion clean transportation on the Hill | Henry Hintermeister

PIRG advocates met with federal lawmakers and their aides from April 6-8 to make the case for a suite of transportation solutions.

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Blog Post | Safe Energy, Transportation

Progress Report: President Biden’s First 100 Days | Matt Casale

Our new progress report finds that despite the need to rebuild many federal agencies and tackle the COVID-19 crisis, the Biden administration has already taken numerous steps to restore environmental protections.

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Blog Post | Transportation

'Build Back Better' plan would transform America's aging infrastructure | Henry Hintermeister

The United States is in need of an infrastructure overhaul.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Nader's "Unsafe At Any Speed" 55th Anniversary! | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, on the 55th anniversary of Ralph Nader's landmark "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the built-in dangers of 1960s cars, as exemplified by the General Motors Corvair, his colleagues led by Joan Claybrook have published a new report: "Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966." The report makes recommendations to President-elect Joe Biden about how to revitalize and strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which Claybrook ran during the Jimmy Carter administration.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Reimagining the street: How bus lanes speed up the morning commute and why it matters | Henry Hintermeister

As major American cities look for ways to lower carbon emissions, they’re looking to low-tech, low-cost bus lanes to help them. Here’s the case for why more cities should get on board.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

The Biden administration announced on Tuesday stronger public and environmental review requirements under a bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The move reversed a rollback by the Trump administration of the requirements, which had limited public review of federal infrastructure projects in an effort to shove through the permitting of new freeways, fossil fuel power plants and pipelines.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Coalition: U.S. PIRG, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, the Center for Auto Safety and the Consumer Federation of America - safety groups that are usually at odds with auto manufacturers - today publicly commended General Motors for the auto giant’s recently announced commitment not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired safety recall defects on its soon-to-be-launched used car platform, CarBravo. Too many car dealers sell dangerous recalled used vehicles.

Transportation

Money for nothing? How to make better use of our transportation dollars.

"Shifting Gears," a report released by our research partner U.S. PIRG Education Fund, examines the failure of America's outdated transportation finance system — one that too often sacrifices funding for clean, sustainable options like transit or biking infrastructure in favor of wasteful road expansions.

 

Transportation

Proposed federal Clean Car standards are a step toward cleaner air

The Biden administration has announced plans to strengthen fuel economy and emissions standards for vehicles, despite industry lobbyists' push for weaker emissions rules. The transportation sector is America's No. 1 source of greenhouse gas pollution, which continues to threaten public health and contribute to global warming.

 

Transportation

Global climate report underlines urgency of reducing emissions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a report confirming that our society is on track to do irrevocable damage to the planet — unless we dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions. To do that, PIRG is working to electrify America's transportation, end federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, curb waste pollution, and more.

 

Transportation

PIRG advocates champion clean transportation on the Hill

To put clean transportation and other top priorities on the congressional agenda, PIRG advocates met with federal lawmakers to make the case for a suite of transportation solutions.

 
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