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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

New Report Shows Californians Are Driving Less

“In California, driving miles are down, just as they are in almost every state,” said Garo Manjikian, Advocate for the CALPIRG Education Fund. “It’s time for policy makers to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. We need to reconsider expensive highway expansions and focus on alternatives such as public transit and biking—which people increasingly use to get around.”

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Moving off the Road

Californians have cut their per-person driving miles by 6.6 percent since 2005, while the nation’s long term driving boom appears to have ended, according to a new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Down the road, fewer will drive, preferring public transportation

A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future," released by the CALPIRG Education Fund shows the slowdown in driving will continue in the years to come.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Young people driving less, transportation planners clueless, report says

Millennials are possibly the first generation who could sing the Beatles classic "(Baby You Can) Drive My Car" and really mean it.

Millennials are the children of baby boomers and Generation X, and they are radically altering the way the nation connects, warns a new report by U.S. PIRG, the national office of the Public Interest Research Group.

The driving miles logged by those ages 16 to 34 in 2009, for example, was 23% lower than it was for the same age group in 2001, according to the report.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Younger generation exits passion for driving

Every generation thinks it's going to change the world.

The Millennials, born between 1983 and 2000, already are driving a big change, according to a study released Tuesday. Younger Americans are driving less, stopping a six-decade-long rise, the report from two advocacy groups concludes.

"The driving boom of the 20th century is over," said Garo Manjikian, legislative advocate for CalPIRG, a California nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on a range of consumer and energy issues, which prepared the report with the Frontier Group, a policy research organization.

Millennials seem to be more willing to put off getting a driver's license and feel less need to get behind the wheel because of the high cost of owning a car, a preference for living in cities where parking is at a premium and the influence of technology, which makes it less necessary to drive to work, shop or visit friends.

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Pages

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund

“To improve California’s transportation system and hit our climate and clean air goals, we must reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG Education Fund executive director. “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will encourage more people to hit the roads -- leading to more traffic, sprawl and pollution.”

Blog Post

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

Blog Post

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

News Release | CALPIRG

Assembly Bill 1418 would put California school districts on a pathway towards utilizing zero-emission vehicles rather than polluting diesel school buses.

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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.

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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