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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Sacramento Bee: Public Transit Needs More Investment

The central premise of the recent opinion piece, “Invest tax dollars in roads, not public transportation” is that Californians have given up on public transit, and we need to invest more in roads instead. The truth is that public transit provides a critical service, demand for which is near record highs - though investments have largely been drowned out by overinvestment in roads.

> Keep Reading
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. 

> Keep Reading
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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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report: University Campuses Like UC Davis Are Transportation Trailblazers as Students Lead Shift From Driving

Davis, February 5th – As Millennials lead a national shift away from driving, universities like UC Davis are giving students new options for getting around and becoming innovators in transportation policy, according to a new report released today. The report, titled, “A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy,” was released by CALPIRG Education Fund and features UC Davis.

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Media Hit | Transportation

SoCal residents are driving less, taking transit more, study says

Mirroring a national shift in transportation habits, Southern California residents are driving less and using transit more than they were a decade ago, according to a study by two national think tanks published Wednesday.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

New Study Shows More People Leaving Cars At Home

A new report shows urban Californians are leading a trend of leaving cars at home and choosing bikes or public transit instead. It's a first-of-its-kind survey comparing urban transportation trends

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Report: More Fresno Commuters ditching their cars

Fresno drivers were in their cars less and using public transit more than a decade ago, a new study showed.

The study, "Transportation in Transition," was released by the California Public Interest Research Group on Wednesday to show how Americans' travel habits have changed over the last ten years.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Report Shows people driving less in cities across California, Using Transit and Alternatives More

CA – A first-of-its-kind report by the CALPIRG Education Fund shows reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in California’s urbanized areas—including the Los Angeles-Santa Ana, San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, and San Diego areas  —and greater use of public transit and biking

> Keep Reading

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax, Transportation

Road Privatization

Privatization of toll roads is a growing trend. During 2007, sixteen states had some privatized road project formally proposed or underway. In the last two years Indiana and Chicago signed multi-billiondollar private concession deals for public roads for 75 years and 99 years respectively. As a result of these deals, toll rates on these roads will increase steadily and revenues will be paid to private company shareholders rather than to the public budget.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Slick Politics

In 1996 and again in 2000, CALPIRG Education Fund completed studies of the levels of money the oil industry spends on lobbying expenses and campaign contributions in California state politics. With consumer and environmental activists continuing to be frustrated in their attempts to enact meaningful petroleum diversity policies for California despite record high gas prices and stubborn pollution problems, we decided to examine once more the effects that money spent by the oil industry has on public policy.

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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

America Idles

America is too dependent on oil, and consumers are paying the price. For the last two years, gasoline prices have been creeping upward. In 2003, a gallon of regular gasoline averaged $1.56; so far in 2005, the same gallon has averaged $2.29, with prices in some areas spiking close to $4.00 in August and September after Hurricane Katrina disrupted supply from the Gulf Coast.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Solutions to America’s Oil Crisis

America is too dependent on oil, and consumers are paying the price. For the last two years, gasoline prices have been creeping upward. In 2003, a gallon of regular gasoline averaged $1.56; so far in 2005, the same gallon has averaged $2.29, with prices in some areas spiking close to $4.00 in August and September after Hurricane Katrina disrupted supply from the Gulf Coast.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Big Money to Big Oil

As the oil industry continues to collect record profits from high oil and gasoline prices, President George Bush is poised to sign into law an energy bill that allows the oil companies to pay even less in taxes and less in royalties for publicly-owned resources. Meanwhile, the new energy law will exempt the oil industry from several environmental laws, allowing even the most profitable companies to pollute our waterways and drinking water.

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Blog Post | Transportation

House Transportation Bill is a Step Backwards, Lacks a Serious Funding Mechanism | Emily Rusch

Statement of U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Associate Dan Smith on the U.S. House transportation reauthorization bill.

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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.

News Release | CALPIRG

The amount of money Americans owe on their cars is now at an all-time high -- up 75 percent since the end of 2009. Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns about the financial future of millions of households as lenders extend credit to more and more Americans without the ability to repay, according to a new U.S. PIRG report.

Blog Post

Cleaner, healthier buses may soon be coming to every city in California.

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund

Getting rid of that black cloud of exhaust behind our buses, and the negative health and environmental effects that come along with it, is easier than it may seem. Electric buses are not only cleaner and healthier than diesel buses, but transit agencies and school districts have many affordable options at their disposal to adopt them.

Report | CALPIRG Education Fund

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term.

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