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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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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

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

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

Leading Groups Send Criteria for Evaluating VW Settlement

Four leading consumer, environmental, and public health organizations wrote an open letter in advance of the April 21st deadline set by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer for a proposal that deals with Volkswagen’s emission scandal.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG Statement: Metrorail Shutdown in Washington D.C. Highlights Need for More Public Transit Investment

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Media Hit | Transportation

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

This Couple Is Driving Cross-Country To Return Their Polluting Jetta To VW Headquarters

Upset that Volkswagen deceived them into buying a not-so-clean diesel, Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari are driving from Colorado to VW’s headquarters in Virginia to return their Jetta SportWagen TDI and drop off 20,000 petitions. I spoke with them about their journey. Here’s what they had to say.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

VW diesel owners on cross-country drive make Chicago stop to raise awareness

A Colorado couple on a cross-country drive to return their 2011 diesel Volkswagen Jetta to the automaker's U.S. headquarters in Virginia stopped in Chicago on Friday to raise awareness about the emissions scandal.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century. The United States should build an efficient and fast passenger rail network, with high-speed rail as a central component, to help address the nation’s transportation challenges in the 21st century.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Smart Growth America | Transportation

What We Learned From the Stimulus

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Written Testimony regarding TIFIA eligibility criteria and offset of subsidy costs

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Getting On Track

Illinois’ transportation system is in trouble. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Illinois residents’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Illinois residents’ health and contributes to global warming. Illinois needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century—one in which public transportation plays an even bigger role than it does today. To get there, we need to start investing now in critical public transportation projects.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

From the road | Mike Litt

Last week, Marcus and Elisabeth kicked off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air. Marcus and Elisabeth own one of the 567,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that Volkswagen sold as “clean” but was secretly designed with a “defeat device” to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for smog-forming pollutants. 

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Cross-country VW tour departure on the local news | Mike Litt

Yesterday, Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG, helped Marcus and Elisabeth kick off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air.

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Blog Post | Make VW Pay

Danny Katz at Boulder Dealership | Mike Litt

In October 2015, CoPIRG Director Danny Katz went to a VW dealership with an owner of one of the 567,000 “clean diesel" vehicles that were designed to get around EPA emissions standards. We're asking dealers to stand with their customers and tell VW headquarters to give them their money back.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

House Tees Up VW Bailout and Other Attacks on Public Protections, Consumer Rights | Ed Mierzwinski

(Updated 8 January to add vote results): You've probably heard that the House is soon planning to again repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That bill will certainly be vetoed. But the House has other anti-consumer, anti-environmental bills scheduled for floor action this week and next. The bills take aim at agency health, financial and safety regulations and also consumer rights to band together as a class to take their grievances against corporate wrongdoers to court. That last bill would immunize Volkswagen from having to compensate VW Diesel owners for being deceptively sold cars designed to "defeat" air pollution requirements.

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