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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses in America

New report profiles six case studies of early electric bus adopters across the nation. By understanding common pitfalls and best practices, cities, agencies and school districts can ensure a smoother roll-out of electric buses, helping reduce climate pollution and protect public health.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Amazon’s big move on electric vehicles | Matt Casale

Last week, Amazon, the online retail and delivery giant, announced plans to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans to go into service between 2021 and 2024.

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Blog Post | Transportation

MASSPIRG transportation advocate earns an award like no other

Sometimes, you do something so well that they rename your award just to get the point across.

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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.

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News Release | U.S PIRG | Transportation

Billions in Transit Ballot Initiatives Get Green Light

This November’s election was packed with transit-focused ballot questions, and like in past years, investing in transit proved popular with voters. Overall, voters approved 34 of the 49 transit-related ballot measures worth a combined total $170 billion, marking the largest number of transit initiatives in an election in U.S. history. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG and Environment America | Transportation

Consumers and Environment Lose A Dauntless Champion, Clarence Ditlow III

Here is a joint statement of U.S. PIRG and Environment America mourning the passing of Clarence M. Ditlow III, longtime director of the Center for Auto Safety, whose 40 years of advocacy has led to consumers driving safer cars that last longer and pollute less.

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News Release | U.S PIRG | Transportation

U.S. Sets New Record for One-Month Gasoline Consumption

According to new data released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the country set a new record for greatest one-month gasoline consumption this past June. The EIA found that the U.S. consumed an average of 9.7 million barrels of gasoline a day in June, resulting in approximately 86 thousand metric tons of carbon pollution. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Obama Administration Issues New Rule Requiring States to Plan for the Impacts of Climate Change on Transportation Assets

Earlier this week, the Obama administration issued the first in a series of three performance management measures designed to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure system as required under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). 

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

America’s Transportation System Dangerously Out of Step with Climate Goals

America’s transportation system is dangerously out of step with the nation’s climate goals, according to a new report written by Frontier Group and released by Environment America Research & Policy Center.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Private Roads, Public Costs

Though road privatization deals seem to offer state officials a “quick fix,” they often pose long-term threats to the public interest.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Connecting California

Public transportation makes a vital contribution to California’s transportation system, providing an alternative to drivers tired of fighting congestion, reducing our dependence on oil, and curbing pollution. However, in many communities around thestate, transit systems are inadequate and cannot keep pace with demand.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Why and How to Fund Public Transportation

This document provides an overview of why transit should receive government funds and how those revenues should be raised. It also briefly discusses some ways to ensure that transit spending can best fulfill its policy goals.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Spending the Stimulus

As families all over America struggle to make ends meet, officials are under pressure to make the best use of the federal stimulus money soon to pour into state capitals. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a critical opportunity for state and local officials to help those families by building a stronger economy now and jump-starting the completion of a 21st century transportation system.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Transportation

Making Tracks

Transportation is an urgent problem for Maryland. Heavy automobile traffic is stealing time from Maryland families and businesses, and forcing consumers to burn more money at the gas pump. Traffic is also making our air less healthy, deepening our oil dependency, and creating more global warming pollution.

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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

For many, when they think of combating global warming, they think of solar panels on rooftops and eliminating coal fired power plants. But, the truth is, there is not an effective solution to address global warming that does not deal with transportation as well.

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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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