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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

From the road | Mike Litt

Last week, Marcus and Elisabeth kicked off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air. Marcus and Elisabeth own one of the 567,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that Volkswagen sold as “clean” but was secretly designed with a “defeat device” to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for smog-forming pollutants. 

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

State of the Union: Five Things We’ll Be Listening For | Chris MacKenzie

President Obama has hyped his final State of the Union address as a speech that will help to define his legacy. Here's how he can break new ground.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Cross-country VW tour departure on the local news | Mike Litt

Yesterday, Danny Katz, director of CoPIRG, helped Marcus and Elisabeth kick off a cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

The Obama Administration Could Repeat Its Biggest Mistake Of The Financial Crisis

In the years since it failed to prosecute a single Wall Street executive involved in the global financial crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly promised to hold corporate executives liable for wrongdoing. But on Monday, when it sued Volkwagen over the automaker's scheme to disguise the illegally high amounts of poisonous gases its cars were spewing into the air, the DOJ brought no criminal charges against the company or its employees.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

House Tees Up VW Bailout and Other Attacks on Public Protections, Consumer Rights | Ed Mierzwinski

(Updated 8 January to add vote results): You've probably heard that the House is soon planning to again repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That bill will certainly be vetoed. But the House has other anti-consumer, anti-environmental bills scheduled for floor action this week and next. The bills take aim at agency health, financial and safety regulations and also consumer rights to band together as a class to take their grievances against corporate wrongdoers to court. That last bill would immunize Volkswagen from having to compensate VW Diesel owners for being deceptively sold cars designed to "defeat" air pollution requirements.

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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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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

 Berkeley, CA—As the average number of miles driven by Americans heads into its eighth year of decline, a new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund finds that the slowdown in driving is likely to continue. Baby Boomers are moving out of the phase in their life when they do the most commuting, while driving-averse Millennials move into that phase. These demographic changes will likely keep driving down for decades, according to the report, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future.”

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Media Hit | Budget, Transportation

ABC 7: Study: Young people are driving less

A new study shows young people are driving less and they like it that way.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

New Report: Long-Term Drop in How Much People Drive, Youth Desire More Transportation Options

A new report released today by the CalPIRG Education Fund with Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade.

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Media Hit | Transportation

The New York Times: Dollars for Roads or Dollars for Rail

Although the price tag for high-speed rail is daunting, it is important to consider the budgetary and societal costs of highway and airport expansions that California would need without it. 

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