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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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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Like other major highways across the nation, Interstate 75 in the Atlanta metro area is plagued by congestion. And there are good reasons to think that it will get worse, unless there are major changes. Georgia's plan is to expand the highway by building new truck-only lanes. We know from experience that this won’t play out so well. Not only that, other options could solve the problem in a much more environmentally and socially-beneficial way.

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The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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

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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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Statement on Announcement of Partial VW Settlement

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on today’s announced VW settlement.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Growing List of States Push Forward with Wasteful Highway Boondoggles

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Survey Finds 1 in 3 Mayors Worried Underinvestment in Infrastructure is Putting Lives at Risk

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Obama Administration and USDOT Float Bold Idea to Cut Transportation Emissions

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century. The United States should build an efficient and fast passenger rail network, with high-speed rail as a central component, to help address the nation’s transportation challenges in the 21st century.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Smart Growth America | Transportation

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Written Testimony regarding TIFIA eligibility criteria and offset of subsidy costs

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Getting On Track

Illinois’ transportation system is in trouble. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Illinois residents’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Illinois residents’ health and contributes to global warming. Illinois needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century—one in which public transportation plays an even bigger role than it does today. To get there, we need to start investing now in critical public transportation projects.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Why VW Must Pay. A View From The Road | Ed Mierzwinski

I've posted a guest post blog entry from Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari on my Huffington Post blog and cross-posted it here. It explains why Marcus and Elizabeth are traveling from Boulder, Colorado to Volkswagen headquarters in northern Virginia to attempt to return their 2010 "defeat-device" Jetta diesel.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

From the road | Mike Litt

Last week, Marcus and Elisabeth kicked off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air. Marcus and Elisabeth own one of the 567,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that Volkswagen sold as “clean” but was secretly designed with a “defeat device” to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for smog-forming pollutants. 

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

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President Obama has hyped his final State of the Union address as a speech that will help to define his legacy. Here's how he can break new ground.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Cross-country VW tour departure on the local news | Mike Litt

Yesterday, Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG, helped Marcus and Elisabeth kick off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air.

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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

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Sens. Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Tina Smith, Dianne Feinstein and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping local school districts transition to all-electric transportation. The bill sets up a federal grant program, authorizing $1 billion over five years for grants of up to $2 million per school district, to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

Blog Post

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

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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