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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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

State transit agencies and school districts are leading the way.

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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. 

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

Massachusetts Coalition Calls on State to Switch to Electric Buses | Matt Casale

Along with the Zero Emission Bus Coalition -- a collective of environmental, transit, labor, community, and public health organizations dedicated to accelerating the electrification of public transit - we delivered this letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack and the Chairman of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board, Joseph Aiello calling for a clear commitment to transition the MBTA to all-electric buses. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG endorses “Clean School Bus Act” to protect the health of America’s children

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.

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

New report grades all 50 states on Volkswagen settlement spending plans

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.

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

Report: Roadmap for a stronger, more sustainable American infrastructure

Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: ‘Green Bus Act’ will drive healthier communities

 

The “Green Bus Act” (H.R. 2164), introduced earlier this month by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley from California, would increase federal funding available for the purchase of zero-emissions buses over the next ten years and require that all buses purchased with federal funds be zero-emissions by 2029.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Transportation

Electric bus demonstrations held in three Massachusetts communities

To showcase the value of fully transitioning from fossil-fuel buses, MASSPIRG held electric bus demonstrations in three Massachusetts communities. A 40-foot-long all-electric bus began its tour at The Beebe School in Malden on March 21, before moving to Cape Ann Transportation Authority in Gloucester on March 22. It made its last stop at First Church in Belmont on March 24 from 2:30pm-4:30pm.

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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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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.

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What's at Stake

Imagine two futures for the transportation system of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In one, the air is cleaner. It is more convenient to use an improved public transit system ad to drive less, so most households only own one car. There are fewer traffic jams because fewer people travel via automobile. There are more sidewalks and bike lanes, so many people walk or bike to their jobs, schools, and other destinations. People feel a little richer with extra money in their pocket, due to less spending on gasoline, parking, and auto maintenance.

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Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

The cyclist’s dilemma: How safety, climate and air pollution collide on America’s roadways | Matt Casale

Walkers and bikers are getting killed at alarming rates -- at a time when we need this type of transportation more than ever. 

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Blog Post | Transportation

Successful electric bus pioneers overcome challenges of early adoption | Matt Casale

Cities across the country are rolling out electric buses. What can we learn from their early experiences?

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

With electric school buses, kids can breathe a little easier | Matt Casale

In Virginia, Dominion Energy proposed the nation’s most ambitious electric school bus plan, but where are the rest of the states?

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Pages

Blog Post

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

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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.”

Transportation

House approves spending bill that takes the right tack on climate crisis

The House has passed a major appropriations bill that, if approved by the Senate, would help improve our country's climate trajectory. The legislation includes includes money for modernizing the U.S. electric grid and energy supply infrastructure as well as $19 billion for public transit and $1.4 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

 

Transportation

Bill to modernize transportation heads to Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package with provisions that prioritize repairing existing infrastructure before funding new expansions, and increase investment in electric vehicles, public transportation, and biking and walking options.

 

Transportation

House transportation bill prioritizes fixing infrastructure, sustainable investment

Federal lawmakers have put forward the INVEST in America Act — a nearly $500 billion transportation spending bill which prioritizes repairing existing infrastructure over new highway projects, and contains key provisions for more sustainable investments.

 

Transportation

12 states just announced plans to transform our transportation system

Transportation is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S.—but Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C., just released a plan to change that, called the Transportation Climate Initiative.

 
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