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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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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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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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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.

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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 | 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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Volkswagen’s $1000 Gift Cards Fall Short

Statement by Mike Litt, National Consumer Advocate with U.S. PIRG, on Volkswagen’s offer of $1,000 in gift cards to customers affected by its emission scandal.

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How Volkswagen Could Compensate Diesel Owners

We explain the core demand of our "Make VW Pay Campaign" in this story by New York Times columnist Ron Lieber:

He asks: "Why not just ask for whatever the cars were worth on the day before news of the scandal broke"

Our reply: "Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG, says that the drivers deserve more."

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

We Launch “Make VW Pay Campaign” Over EPA Cheating Scandal

Today we launched a “Make VW Pay Campaign” as VW's CEO resigned over the scandal surrounding its "defeat device" scheme (and subsequent cover-up) to trick EPA pollution monitoring computers in nearly half a million diesel cars sold in the U.S. We are demanding a full rebate in buy backs to customers and other accountability.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads

As Congress struggles to renew the federal transportation law, a new report from CALPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group finds that drivers currently pay less than half the total cost of roads, and argues that while increasing gas taxes could fill the shortfall, it would leave other problems unaddressed.

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Report | CalPIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Budget, Transportation

Transportation and the New Generation

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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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public, Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Even as California nears construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail line, however, it remains unclear just how the private sector will participate in building out the nation’s high-speed rail network.

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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding

To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy—particularly at a time of tight public budgets—it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Next Stop: California

As California moves toward construction of a new high-speed rail network, the state has much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what California can expect from high-speed rail and how the state can receive the greatest possible benefits from its investment.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax, Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Why VW Must Pay. A View From The Road | Ed Mierzwinski

I've posted a guest post blog entry from Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari on my Huffington Post blog and cross-posted it here. It explains why Marcus and Elizabeth are traveling from Boulder, Colorado to Volkswagen headquarters in northern Virginia to attempt to return their 2010 "defeat-device" Jetta diesel.

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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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