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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

The road to cleaner air | Mac Dressman

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

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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 | MASSPIRG | Transportation

Statement: Massachusetts could be taking a big step toward all electric buses

Today, nearly all of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) buses run on fossil-fuels, contributing to global warming and health-harming air pollution. That could soon change: the Massachusetts State Senate is considering a bill requiring that the MBTA purchase only electric buses starting in 2030 and that all MBTA buses be electric by 2040.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Jersey just took a massive step on clean transportation; more states should follow

New Jersey set a new benchmark today in addressing the nation’s number one source of global warming emissions: transportation. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking electric vehicle bill into law that offers a clear roadmap for state houses and governors nationwide to tackle climate change.

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Year in review: Consumer, public health and voters’ rights advancements provided 2019 highlights at the state level

Consumer, public health and voter advocacy -- often from the national nonpartisan group U.S. PIRG and its affiliates -- moved the ball forward at the state level in 2019. 

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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. 

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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.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air

Buses play a key role in in our nation’s transportation system, carrying millions of children daily to and from school and moving millions of Americans each day around our cities. Buses reduce the number of individual cars on our roads, make our communities more livable and sustainable, and provide transportation options for people of all ages and abilities. Yet, the majority of America’s buses remain dirty – burning fossil fuels like diesel that put the health of our children and communities at risk and contribute to global warming.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Blog Post | Transportation

We need our buses and trains during public health emergencies | Ethan Evans

Americans are staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and therefore public transportation ridership has plummeted. Transit agencies across the country are facing budget challenges and being forced to make tough decisions, including cutting back routes or shutting down service altogether. But essential workers -- like healthcare professionals, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and others -- still need to get to work, and we’re depending on them to do so. For them, we need to keep our public transit systems running.

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Blog Post | Transportation

America on pause: Vehicle travel during COVID-19 and what comes next | Tony Dutzik

Driving is down across America during COVID-19, but the trends vary from state to state. Our new blog post reviews which states saw the fastest drops in traffic and what the future might hold.

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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.

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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.”

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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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