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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. 

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Blog Post | Transportation

To Drive or Not to Drive? Changing Transportation Habits in a Car-Centric Country | Matt Casale

Here's a guest post from our friend Meryl Compton at Frontier Group. Meryl writes about the challenges of deciding whether or not to ditch a car in a car-centric country.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards | Matt Casale

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG denounces federal proposal to stall Clean Car Standards

Americans stand to breathe more polluted air as a result of a rollback announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed to roll back the “Clean Car” fuel economy standards, which, if left in place, would eliminate more than 2 billion metric tons of emissions.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Massachusetts to Spend VW Settlement Money on Electric Buses and EV Charging Infrastructure

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) released a draft plan that proposes using the first $23.5 million the state is receiving as part of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal settlement on electric vehicle infrastructure. The plan dedicates $11 million for the purchase of new, all-electric buses, $5 million for the expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and reserves the rest to be used on other projects that will help electrify the state’s transportation network.

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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

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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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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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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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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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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund & Environment California Research and Policy Center

Global warming is already impacting California in devastating ways. In 2018, wildfires ravaged the state, with the deadliest wildfire in history, the Camp Fire, killing at least 85 people, and the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state, the Mendocino Complex, burning almost half a million acres. For nearly seven years, the state has been experiencing a drought, which has greatly impacted agriculture and water resources. At the same time, rising sea levels threaten coastal communities with flooding, erosion and mudslides.

News Release | MASSPIRG

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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG supports legislation filed last week by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), designed to make our roads safer. The Stop Underrides Act would require that all trucks install underride guards -- technology that helps prevent deadly crashes.

Blog Post

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

Blog Post

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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