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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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Statement: Vision Zero Act would mean safer roadways to combat increased pedestrian and cyclist deaths

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

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Cities across the country are leading the way on electric buses

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Report Identifies Nine Wasteful Highway Projects Across the Country

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. Now, a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated collectively to cost at least $30 billion.

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News Release | Tax, Transportation

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

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

In Response to Lawsuit, Highway Administration Reinstates Transportation Clean Air Rule

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Report | Ohio PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Eight Questions about the Future of the Ohio Turnpike

Ohio Governor John Kasich has touted privatization plans for the Ohio Turnpike as a possible way to fund roadway projects around the state that have been stalled by deep budget cutbacks he signed to highway and bridge construction. Ohioans must make sure that eight basic questions have been fully addressed to ensure that fair comparisons are made and hidden costs are considered.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Transportation

Transportation and the New Generation

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public, Private or Both?

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Do Roads Pay For Themselves?

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Track Record of Success

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Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

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Blog Post | Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

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Blog Post | Transportation

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

WASHINGTON -- After a summer of record-breaking air pollution, heat waves and an ongoing public health crisis, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation this week to address many of the pollutants most damaging to human health and the environment. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG

WASHINGTON -- The House Ways and Means Committee is debating legislation that could cut power sector emissions to between 64% and 73% below 2005 levels by 2031. Under the Build Back Better Act, tax incentives for such clean technologies as wind and solar, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles would be updated and extended through the end of the decade.

News Release | US PIRG

Representatives of several leading U.S. consumer and traveler groups today met with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to urge action on the most pressing consumer protection priorities affecting consumers flying commercial airlines. It was the first time representatives of consumer groups were granted a meeting with a U.S. Secretary of Transportation in nearly five years.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

Transportation

Global climate report underlines urgency of reducing emissions

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Transportation

Proposed federal Clean Car standards are a step toward cleaner air

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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.

 

Transportation

'Build Back Better' plan would transform America's infrastructure

President Biden's infrastructure package takes a fix-it-first approach toward repairing the nation's highways and bridges, and includes key provisions for expanding electric transportation, getting the lead out of drinking water, and strengthening the electric grid.

 
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