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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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

The Trump administration put Americans’ health at risk by abruptly suspending a federal safeguard intended to curb a major source of climate-changing emissions, the pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, according to a lawsuit filed today. The Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. PIRG, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, are suing the Federal Highway Administration for illegally suspending the clean air standard this year, and are seeking its immediate reinstatement.

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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

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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Blog Post | Transportation

Trump Administration Proposes Cuts to Critical Transit Investment Programs | Matt Casale

The Trump Administration wants to build highways and appears to be willing to do so at the expense of critical transit investment programs designed to build a transportation system that is cleaner, healthier, more accessible, and equipped to build an economy for the 21st Century. Eliminating funding for TIGER and Transit New Starts Grants, as the administration has proposed to do, is a step in the wrong direction.

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

New Study Identifies Nine of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country, $10 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars Wasted

A new report U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways.

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

New Study Identifies Nine of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country, $10 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars Wasted

A new report U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways.

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U.S. PIRG Statement on President Trump’s First Address to Congress

President Trump gave his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, highlighting his legislative priorities for the coming year. His speech touched on issues ranging from the budget, infrastructure, and special interest influence in government.

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

Fiat Chrysler Should Pay Penalties for Excess Pollution

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Advocate at U.S. PIRG on the EPA’s allegations against Fiat Chrysler for using software in some EcoDiesel vehicles that allow them to exceed pollution limits.

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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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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund. | Transportation

Who Pays For Roads?

Many Americans believe that drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use through gas taxes and other user fees. That has never been true, and it is less true now than at any other point in modern times. Today, general taxes paid byall tax- payers cover nearly as much of the cost of building and maintaining highways as the gas tax and other fees paid by drivers.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Driving Wisconsin’s ‘Brain Drain’

How Outdated Transportation Policies Undermine Wisconsin’s Ability to Attract and Retain Young Talent for Tomorrow’s Economic Prosperity

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Blog Post | Transportation

In Red States and Blue States, Transit Wins | Sean Doyle

The 2016 election was full of surprising twists and turns, but one thing that stayed true to historical precedent was the bipartisan, local support for public transportation. Here's a rundown on some of the most consequential of these projects.

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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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