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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

50 STEPS TOWARD CARBON-FREE TRANSPORTATION

 

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

America’s Transportation System Dangerously Out of Step with Climate Goals

America’s transportation system is dangerously out of step with the nation’s climate goals, according to a new report written by Frontier Group and released by Environment America Research & Policy Center.

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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Report Finds Small Decrease in Driving Would Save Bay Staters more than $20 Billion Cumulatively, and $2.3 Billion Annually, by 2030

A new report released today documents a potential savings of more than $20 billion for the Commonwealth’s residents and state budget. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Speaker Ryan’s “Homerun” on Federal Transportation Bill Closer to a Foul Ball

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

Volkswagen’s $1000 Gift Cards Fall Short

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New House Transportation Bill Raises Serious Concerns

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How Volkswagen Could Compensate Diesel Owners

We explain the core demand of our "Make VW Pay Campaign" in this story by New York Times columnist Ron Lieber:

He asks: "Why not just ask for whatever the cars were worth on the day before news of the scandal broke"

Our reply: "Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG, says that the drivers deserve more."

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Connecting the Commonwealth

A new report released today by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) analyzes the benefits of proposed and planned public transportation projects throughout Massachusetts.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Getting on Track

Pennsylvania’s transportation system is doing an increasingly poor job of moving people and goods efficiently and inexpensively around the Keystone State, while contributing to oil dependence and environmental harm.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Squandering the Stimulus

Nothing illustrates how the lack of transportation options hurts consumers and our economy more than the fact that, since approval of the tax rebates in February, Americans on average have already spent the amount of their stimulus checks at the pump.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Better Way to Go

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Derailed By Debt

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) faces an uncertain financial future over the next five years. With debt service payments increasing, along with other costs, the MBTA will face sizable budget gaps forcing the Authority to choose among unhealthy options to close these structural deficits. These options primarily include: further dramatic fare increases, service reductions, or more borrowing.

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Blog Post | Budget, Tax, Transportation

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea | Jaimie Woo

A little more than a year ago, I highlighted the absurdity of using a corporate tax holiday to fund infrastructure. Here's a quick refresher: Currently, large wealthy corporations avoid taxes by making it look as though their U.S. profits are generated offshore - costing Americans $90 billion each year in tax revenue.

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Video Blog | Transportation

WISPIRG's Bruce Speight talks transportation spending on WISEye

Do we actually have a transportation-funding deficit, or are we simply spending our transportation funds wrong? WISPIRG Director Bruce Speight aptly asks in an recent interview with Senior Producer Steve Walters on WISEye—a local Wisconsin outlet that presents nonpartisan, unedited coverage of civic and community life statewide on cable TV and the Internet.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Airlines Pushing Bill To Hide True Cost of Airfare | Ed Mierzwinski

After losing its court case to overturn new pro-consumer, pro-competition airfare price disclosure rules, the airline lobby has flown into Congress. Just before the spring recess, a House committee approved a so-called Transparent Airfares Act without benefit of a public hearing. It's a bad idea.

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Video Blog | Transportation

Webinar On "A New Direction" Report

Webinar on the report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future."
 

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Blog Post | Transportation

A Trillion Fewer Driving Miles?

Transportation policy needs to focus on whether the youth-trend toward less driving since 2004 is the new normal.

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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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