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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

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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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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

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

A first-of-its-kind report released today examines whether high-speed rail should be public, private or both. The research report released by TexPIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries.  In addition to outlining the promises and pitfalls, the report recommends ten principles to protect taxpayers and the public under private financing deals.

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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

Lawmakers act hypocritically as they try to silence members and cut off debate

Statement by Melissa Cubria, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), on the move by Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Chairman of the House Transportation committee, and other members of the Texas House of Representatives to cut off debate on controversial legislation.

 

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