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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Report Examines Whether High-Speed Rail Should Be Public, Private or Both

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Media Hit | Transportation

Fort Worth Weekly: Fire Sale

Over the last decade, the debacle of the Trans-Texas Corridor made the phrase “private toll roads” dangerous territory for any Texas politician. The plan to create massive toll-road corridors across the state, with foreign companies in charge and millions of acres of real estate at risk of being taken by eminent domain, drew furious grassroots opposition across the political spectrum. That backlash eventually killed the project — but not exactly with a stake through its heart. One bill now sitting on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk would authorize a slew of new privately operated toll roads across the state. Ironically, the “sunset” legislation was supposed to reform the Texas Department of Transportation, which got in hot water particularly because of the corridor proposal.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

New Report: Texas’ Seniors Will Face Poor Mobility Options

The first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year and seniors in Houston are in danger of being unable to get around. The largest generation in history, Boomers are also the most dependent on automobile travel. Yet by 2015, 68% of seniors ages 65 and older in the Houston area will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Texas’ misplaced priorities: $350 million subsidy to private toll road benefiting ExxonMobil

As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) hosts its final public hearings on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a broad coalition of groups including Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Citizens Transportation Coalition, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Independent Texans, Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, Texans for Accountable Government, Houston Tomorrow, and Sierra Club are protesting the agency’s misplaced priorities. TxDOT officials have made the Grand Parkway Segment E a statewide "priority" and are assigning $350 million of statewide discretionary funds toward the project.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Calls on NEW Sunset Advisory Appointees to Protect the Public Interest: Sunset Advisory Commission Must Reform TDI and TxDOT

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst announced this morning his appointments to the Sunset Advisory Commission, tapping former vice chairman Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) to take over as chairman for the upcoming review cycle. Also named to the commission are State Senators John Whitmire (D-Houston), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Joan Huffman (R-Houston). Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) will remain on the panel and Charles McMahen of Schulenberg is his public appointee.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Grassroots Victory: CDAs Killed During Special Session

In what should be touted as a major grassroots victory for taxpayers in Texas, the authority to enter into contracts that sell-off Texas freeways to private investment entities expired August 31, 2009. A moratorium on private road deals or Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) was set to expire this year giving the state the authority to enter into new private road contracts again.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG calls on the Legislature to stop the road privatization bill in its tracks

Senate Bill 17 contains loopholes that will open up Texas’ roadways to private investment by permitting TxDOT to avoid upholding public protections from these harmful private toll road deals. TexPIRG's is calling on the Legislature to stop the road privatization bill in its tracks.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Suspends Support For SB 17

On Tuesday, March 31, 2009, the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) released a statement supporting SB 17. Like others, upon our initial reading of SB 17, it appeared that the bill would create strong public safeguards against bad private toll road deals for the citizens of Texas. We have since noticed a particular clause in the bill that would create a loophole for the Texas Department of Transportation (TX DOT).

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Study of Private Roads Shows Signs for Caution

A major new report released today identifies problems in a national trend toward private toll roads. The study, Public Roads, Private Costs: The Facts About Toll Road Privatization and How to Protect the Public, examines 15 completed private road projects and 79 others that are proposed or underway.

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