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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Plugging In

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Blog Post | Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

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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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

New TIFIA Rules Will Hurt the Public

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Blog Post | Tax, Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

Private High-Speed Rail: A Dangerous Fantasy

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Blog Post | Transportation

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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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