Reports

Report | USPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlement that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions. In effect, VW’s deceit now represents a historic opportunity to drastically reduce harmful pollution that makes us sick and destroys the planet, while also providing an essential down payment toward the transition to a clean and modern 21st century transportation system. 

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 5

America’s aging roads and bridges need fixing. Our car-dependent transportation system is dangerous, harms our communities, and is the nation’s leading source of global warming pollution. And more than ever before, it is clear that America needs to invest in giving people healthier, more sustainable transportation options.

Yet year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and key transportation priorities. Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals.

Highway expansion costs transportation agencies billions of dollars, driving them further into debt, while failing to address our long-term transportation challenges.

·         Highway expansions are expensive and saddle states with debt.

o   In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion on highway expansion projects – sucking money away from road repair, transit, and other local needs.

o   From 2008 to 2015, the highway debt of state transportation agencies nearly doubled, from $111 billion to $217 billion.

o   New roadway is expensive to maintain, and represents a lasting financial burden. The average lane mile costs $24,000 per year to keep in a state of good repair.

·         Highway expansion doesn’t solve congestion.

o   Expanding a highway sets off a chain reaction of societal decisions that ultimately lead the highway to become congested again – often in only a short time. Since 1980, the nation has added more than 800,000 lane-miles of highway – paving more than 1,500 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – and yet congestion today is worse than it was in the early 1980s.

·         Highway expansion damages the environment and our communities.

o   Highway expansion fuels additional driving that contributes to climate change. In 2017, transportation was the nation’s number one source of global warming pollution.

o   Highway expansion can also cause irreparable harm to communities – forcing the relocation of homes and businesses, widening “dead zones” alongside highways, severing street connections for pedestrians and cars, and reducing the city’s base of taxable property.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Blueprint for Tomorrow

INFRASTRUCTURE IS AT THE HEART of America’s greatest challenges. The infrastructure investments made by generations past have contributed to improved health and welfare, and to the nation’s unparalleled economic prosperity. But the infrastructure decisions of the past have also cast a long shadow, leaving America to deal with the burden of lead water pipes that jeopardize our children’s health, fossil fuel pipelines that contribute to global warming, and transportation and solid waste infrastructure that no longer serve today’s needs.

It is time for a bold, new vision for federal infrastructure policy – one that focuses attention on the 21st century’s toughest challenges, from ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans to addressing global warming, which threatens to change American life as we know it. The nation’s infrastructure policy is an opportunity to undertake the challenge of building a better world.

It is also time for a new approach to federal investment in infrastructure – one that’s less focused on creating ribbon-cutting opportunities and maximizing the number of jobs and is more attentive to getting the most benefit out of every dollar spent.

By focusing federal policy on unleashing high-value investments in critical areas – and resisting the temptation to spend resources on counterproductive boondoggle projects – the Trump administration and Congress can leave a lasting infrastructure legacy that will be remembered by future generations.

Report | TexPIRG | Public Health

Get the Lead Out

Over the past five years, the tragedy of Flint, Michigan has stunned the nation. We watched the drinking water of an entire city become contaminated with lead. And, we know now that this toxic threat extends well beyond Flint to communities across the country.

In fact, test results now show that lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and pre-schools — flowing from thousands of fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day.

In all likelihood, the confirmed cases of lead in schools’ water are just the tip of the iceberg. Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing, or fixtures. And where there is lead, there is risk of contamination.1

The health threat of lead in schools’ water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers for two reasons. First, lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave. So, we ought to be particularly vigilant against this health threat at schools and pre-schools, where our children spend their days learning and playing.

Second, current regulations are too weak to protect our children from lead-laden water at school. Federal rules only apply to the roughly ten percent of schools and pre-schools that are considered to be their own Public Water Systems.2 At schools not considered to be a Public Water System, there is no federal rule protecting kids from exposure to lead in schools’ drinking water. While the latest edition of the EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Centers recommends that schools reduce lead to the “lowest possible concentration,” unless a state’s law directs schools to adhere to it, this guidance is not enforceable.3 Moreover, even when federal rules do apply to a school, they only require remediation when testing confirms lead concentrations in excess of 15 parts per billion at ten percent or more of taps sampled, even though medical and public health experts agree that there is no safe level of lead for our children.4 The error of this approach is compounded by the fact that testing, even when properly done, often fails to detect maximum lead levels in water coming out of the tap.

Unfortunately, so far, most states are failing to protect children from lead in schools’ drinking water. Our review of 32 states’ laws and regulations finds:

Several states, including Texas, have no requirements for schools and pre-schools to address the threat of lead in drinking water.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

The Real Price of Medications

People living in the United States have access to some of the best medical care in the world, from life-saving drugs to cutting-edge surgical techniques. But our system is deeply flawed, with spiraling costs forcing many Americans to spend more on care and often receiving poor quality care for all the extra money spent.

Retail prescription drug costs represent about 10% of the total national healthcare expenditure in America and are a public concern because of existing high prices, which often continue to climb. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Americans on medication struggle to afford their prescription drugs - and that rises to more than 4 in 10 for individuals in worse health.  Research on these high health care expenses (including prescription drug expenses) in comparison to other countries show that this difficult cost burden is driven primarily by inflated prices: not differences in the drugs used, our aging population, nor the amount of drugs prescribed.”

These high prices decimate the delivered value we get from medications. The main problem is this: although a patient may pay more for their life saving medicine, they are not getting any more health value for the extra money spent.

Research shows that high prices lead patients to engage in risky behaviors, including medication rationing or altering dosages without doctor’s consent. Nearly 17% of older adults exhibit this non-adherence behavior, the highest among 11 comparably wealthy countries. Physician treatment plans don’t work when patients can’t follow them, and research shows that medical treatment deviations account for major proportions of treatment failures and many hospital and nursing home admissions.

The picture is even more concerning when you consider that drug prices can vary greatly within cities, states and regions of the United States. Doctors may prescribe more expensive medication that is just as effective as other options, or patients may decide to forgo treatment, when more affordable options could be available at the pharmacy around the corner. Sometimes, the best treatment may be what the patient can consistently stick to, but with providers and patients unsure about prescription drug prices, that treatment decision becomes even more daunting.  
 

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