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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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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

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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 | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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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

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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

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

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

New National Safety Council Data Show 18 Percent Increase in Motor-Vehicle Fatalities Nationwide Compared to 2014

New data released this week from the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit, nongovernmental public service organization chartered by Congress to promote health and safety in the United States, found a troubling increase in the number of motor-vehicle fatalities during the first half of 2016. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public, Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Public-private partnerships – or “PPPs” – have come to play an important role in the construction of high-speed rail lines around the world. The experience with high-speed rail PPPs, however, has been mixed. While PPP arrangements have brought private capital and expertise to the task of building high-speed rail, PPPs have also resulted in cost overruns, government bailouts, and other serious problems for the public.

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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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Next Stop: California

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Road Work Ahead

Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Breaking the Silence on Transportation and the Climate

Transportation policy-makers in most states and at the federal level have simply never seen it as their business to consider, much less act to reduce, the climate impacts of their infrastructure investment decisions. The Obama administration’s actions last week, however tentative, suggest that that is about to change.

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Blog Post | Transportation

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U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The future of driving

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Blog Post | Transportation

Owning Fewer Cars Isn’t Just For Millennials | Sean Doyle

New transportation options are making it easier for people to use transit more, own fewer cars, and even save money on transportation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Report Back on the VW Road Trip | Mike Litt

After driving 1,671 miles from Colorado over the course of 12 days, the big day arrived -- Marcus and Elisabeth made it to headquarters on Tuesday at 2 PM. I joined them to return their 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI and deliver over 20,000 of our petitions to Volkswagen. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

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.

Blog Post

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

Blog Post

Last month, Florida became the last state to make public its draft plan for spending the Volkswagen settlement money. Every state in the nation has received money from Volkswagen's historic settlement with federal authorities over emissions control violations in the automakers "clean diesel" vehicles. Florida's share is $166 million. While the plan commits to new funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the plan dedicates the rest of the diesel mitigation funding to the purchase of new diesel vehicles. We urged the state to amend the plan so that the funding is focused exclusively on electric vehicles.”

News Release | U.S. PIRG

 

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works unveiled a major transportation bill today, which includes a section on climate change that shifts some federal highway money to Complete Streets -- a  program that makes streets safer for walking and biking. The legislation also moves money toward investments in public transportation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and authorizes funding for an expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Blog Post

States across the country are still spending billions of dollars every year widening highways, usually in the name of congestion relief. These dollars are not being well spent. The projects don’t do a good job reducing traffic, but they do exacerbate the very real safety, health and environmental problems with our transportation system.

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does your state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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