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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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What do our snow plowing policies, which lead to roads being cleared faster and better than sidewalks, say about our transportation policies?

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A Step in the Wrong Direction: Pedestrian Deaths Hit Highest Total Since 1990

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Climate Solutions from Day One

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Ford and Volkswagen form “global alliance,” will investigate ways to develop electric vehicles

Two of the world’s largest automakers, Ford and Volkswagen, announced at the Detroit Auto Show that they’re teaming up to build vehicles together. Although they are starting by developing commercial vans and medium-sized pickups, the companies agreed to "investigate" how they can work together to develop next generation vehicles, such as electric cars. U.S. PIRG is calling on them to take swift action to bring clean vehicles to the road.

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News Release | Tax, Transportation

U.S. PIRG Response to 2018 State of the Union Address

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address touched on a lot of topics crucial to the American way of life. Unfortunately, he omitted many of the most important topics facing our country today: consumer protection, threats to food safety and threats to our democracy. And on the important issues he did discuss, such as infrastructure and the economy, he offered 20th century solutions to 21st century problems.

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News Release | Transportation

Highway Administration Reinstates Clean Air Rule In Response to Lawsuit

In a victory for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

In Response to Lawsuit, Highway Administration Reinstates Transportation Clean Air Rule

In a big win for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration today responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and SELC on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal rule requiring state and local planners to account for and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

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News Release | Transportation

Groups Sue Trump Admin. for Risking Americans’ Health by Suspending Transportation Clean Air Safeguards

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

With States Pledging to Comply with Goals of Paris Agreement, New Report Finds $2.9 Billion in Volkswagen Settlement Funds Could Help Accelerate All Electric Transportation Revolution

 

A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds that $2.9 billion from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to states to help clean up the country’s transportation system and strongly recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses. The report finds that states throughout the country could supply between 4,350 and 8,700 additional fast charging stations, significantly improving the nation’s electric infrastructure, and could purchase over 3,000 all-electric, zero-emissions buses, reducing dangerous pollution and saving money, all while accelerating market transformation to an all-electric transportation system.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Driving Wisconsin’s ‘Brain Drain’

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Course

Across America, colleges and universities are showing that efforts aimed at reducing driving deliver powerful benefits for students, staff and surrounding communities. Policymakers at all levels of government should be looking to the innovative examples of these campuses. Universities and college towns also provide useful models for expanding the range of transportation options available to Americans while addressing the transportation challenges facing our communities.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Transportation in Transition

A first-of-its-kind report showing that on average, residents of America’s cities are driving less and using other modes of travel more.  The report compares the latest government data on changes in automobile use, public transit travel and biking in each of the most populous 100 urbanized areas across the nation.  Recommendations are made for how policy leaders should adapt to these new trends.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The Value of Open Streets | Sean Doyle

There are few, if any, public spaces as abundant and conspicuous as streets.  Historically, pedestrians and cyclists ruled on our streets and roads, but today, these public spaces have largely been appropriated by, and are engineered for, the sole use of cars. Enter International Car Free Day – a day where people are encouraged to move around for work, errands or recreation without a car. While the official Car Free Day has been marked since the mid-1990s, today people are rediscovering that our streets shouldn’t just be for cars, giving the day new significance.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Better fuel standards aren’t making our roads more dangerous | Sean Doyle

Last week, the Washington Times wrote an alarming editorial claiming that more Americans are dying on the nation’s roadways due to better fuel economy standards for vehicles – a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, not only is this claim ill supported by the available data, but it distracts from the real problem and proven solutions that can help save American lives.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Guest Post from NRDC's Deron Lovaas: Better transportation plans, better communities

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has a chance in the Obama administration’s final months to lift metropolitan and state transportation plans to a new level of performance.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Bad Verdicts on Equally Bad Highway Projects | Sean Doyle

Two highway projects, representative of some of the worst such projects in the nation, received the nod from officials recently. If you’re a fan of wasteful, outdated highway expansion projects that cannibalize scarce transportation dollars, then it was a good week. But if you care about the concerns of local communities, fiscal responsibility, public health, the environment, and giving people more and better mobility options in America, the support for these highway projects was unwelcome news.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Clean Transportation Doesn’t Need To Be A Distant Utopia | John Olivieri

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Blog Post

Last month, Florida became the last state to make public its draft plan for spending the Volkswagen settlement money. Every state in the nation has received money from Volkswagen's historic settlement with federal authorities over emissions control violations in the automakers "clean diesel" vehicles. Florida's share is $166 million. While the plan commits to new funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the plan dedicates the rest of the diesel mitigation funding to the purchase of new diesel vehicles. We urged the state to amend the plan so that the funding is focused exclusively on electric vehicles.”

News Release | U.S. PIRG

 

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.

Blog Post

States across the country are still spending billions of dollars every year widening highways, usually in the name of congestion relief. These dollars are not being well spent. The projects don’t do a good job reducing traffic, but they do exacerbate the very real safety, health and environmental problems with our transportation system.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. In the fifth edition of their Highway Boondoggles report, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identify nine new wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to cost at least $25 billion collectively. Over five editions of the report, the groups have profiled 50 boondoggles.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does your state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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