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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Transportation

Riding a bus, subway or rideshare? Here’s a look at safety measures adopted to combat COVID-19 | Jacob van Cleef

From mask mandates to capacity limits, the largest public transit systems and ride share companies have new procedures

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: States should adopt strict limits on pollution in Transportation and Climate Initiative

Twelve states plus Washington, D.C. released new details today about a program to reduce global warming emissions from transportation. The Transportation and Climate Initiative will create an enforceable and mandatory limit on transportation pollution, and will generate funding that could be invested in cleaner alternatives. 

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

Statement: Vision Zero Act would mean safer roadways to combat increased pedestrian and cyclist deaths

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new data last week showing that pedestrian and cyclist deaths on American roads are at their highest levels since 1990. In response, the co-chairs of the bipartisan federal Bike Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), introduced the Vision Zero Act.

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

Cities across the country are leading the way on electric buses

Cities across the country making the switch to electric buses are reaping benefits on dual fronts -- reducing emissions as well as operating expenses. A new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group highlights the experience of six early adopters, illuminating the successes, challenges and lessons learned

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

Statement: Denying California the right to set its own emissions standards is a bad deal for all Americans

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it would revoke a waiver that gave California the ability to set its own standards for automobile emissions. The waiver allowed the state to set stricter air quality standards than those imposed at the federal level -- and provided an avenue for other states to follow suit. More than one-third of U.S. auto buyers live in the 14 states plus Washington, DC, that have adopted California’s stricter standards.

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

Senate bill marks progress on clean transportation and electric vehicles, but leaves a lot to be desired

 

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works unveiled a major transportation bill today, which includes a section on climate change that shifts some federal highway money to Complete Streets -- a  program that makes streets safer for walking and biking. The legislation also moves money toward investments in public transportation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and authorizes funding for an expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlements that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 3

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 often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and 21st century transportation priorities.

> Keep Reading
Report | Frontier Group and Environment America | Transportation

50 STEPS TOWARD CARBON-FREE TRANSPORTATION

 

Transportation policy in the 21st century needs a new set of assumptions and priorities – with a central goal of preventing global warming.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

We should close more streets to cars to keep people safe during COVID-19 | Matt Casale

Closing streets (or parts of streets) to non-necessary cars on some routes around grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and other essential locations can help make travel safer during a time of necessary physical distancing. It will also create safe passages for people to walk and bike, which may also help reduce crowding in parks and on trails, where people have been congregating in an attempt to get outside and get exercise during quarantine.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Call “time out” on highway boondoggles | Tony Dutzik

Given the recent steep drop in highway traffic, and associated lost gas tax revenues, some federal aid to state transportation agencies seems likely. But the emergency caused by COVID-19 should not lead us to rush to complete the build-out of highway projects that were bad ideas in the first place – much less fuel a new round of wasteful highway construction under the guise of “stimulus.”

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Here’s what you do not have to do to save the planet | Ethan Evans

How to tune out the noise and focus on what matters.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

2019 in Review: The U.S. commits to clean public transit | Ethan Evans

State transit agencies and school districts are leading the way.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

2020 resolution for America’s cities: drive less, live more | Matt Casale

In 2019, Norway's capital city of Oslo experienced zero deaths on its roads. In 2020, American cities should resolve to take the steps to end roadway deaths as well. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act just passed by Congress provides $2.5 billion in funding specifically for zero-emission electric school buses.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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. 

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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. 

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.

 

Transportation

'Build Back Better' plan would transform America's infrastructure

President Biden's infrastructure package takes a fix-it-first approach toward repairing the nation's highways and bridges, and includes key provisions for expanding electric transportation, getting the lead out of drinking water, and strengthening the electric grid.

 
View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your donation supports U.S. PIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up to date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code



U.S. PIRG is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.