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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

This Couple Is Driving Cross-Country To Return Their Polluting Jetta To VW Headquarters

Upset that Volkswagen deceived them into buying a not-so-clean diesel, Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari are driving from Colorado to VW’s headquarters in Virginia to return their Jetta SportWagen TDI and drop off 20,000 petitions. I spoke with them about their journey. Here’s what they had to say.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

VW diesel owners on cross-country drive make Chicago stop to raise awareness

A Colorado couple on a cross-country drive to return their 2011 diesel Volkswagen Jetta to the automaker's U.S. headquarters in Virginia stopped in Chicago on Friday to raise awareness about the emissions scandal.

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Media Hit | Make VW Pay

Volkswagen diesel protesters stop by auto show

But now, after U.S. auto regulators revealed the automaker had installed software designed to cheat on emissions testing of VW diesel vehicles, the Boulder residents are driving cross-country to Volkswagen of America’s headquarters in Herndon, Va., to protest. They aren't the only ones.Greenpeace protesters have shown up in Europe to raise awareness of the issue as well.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay

Detroit Auto Show | Kathryn Lee

Marcus and Elisabeth made their way to the Detroit Auto Show over the weekend. As they drove across the country, on a mission to return their TDI to Volkswagen corporate headquarters in Virginia, the couple has been making stops along the way. The just missed Mathias Mueller as he toured the US, stopping at the Detroit Auto Show to try to make amends with customers. Saturday was the first day the show was open to the public. Marcus and Elisabeth first met with press across the street of the event and then went into building, heading straight to the Volkswagen booth.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

Tesoro Toll Road Extension Denied Permit

On Monday, March 16th, the San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 to deny the Toothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5 mile toll road extension. Last September this project was one of eleven featured in our study entitled “Highway Boondoggles – Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” 

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Media Hit | Transportation

Why own a car when you can share one?

CALPIRG Education Fund's recent report, the Innovative Transportation Index, found that San Francisco is a national leader in innovative ways to get around town, second only to Austin, Texas.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Ranks 70 Major American Cities For High-Tech Transportation Options

A new report from CALPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group ranks American cities on how many new technology-enabled services and tools they have to meet transportation needs. It finds that San Francisco ranks 2nd, Los Angeles ranks 4th, and San Diego ranks 8th among the nation’s 70 largest cities.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on Tesoro Extension

A new report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund takes aim at the proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in Orange County to extend the California 241 toll road, calling the “Tesoro Extension” a national example of wasteful highway spending that threatens to crowd out more important investments.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax, Transportation

What We Learned from the Stimulus

The latest data on stimulus spending show that funds spent on public transportation were a more effective job creator than stimulus funds spent on highways. In the 10 months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) was signed, investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

In the wake of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse there was enormous public outcry and recognition of the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Americans expected public officials to respond to the tragedy with a large scale effort to address the nearly 73,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. The findings in this report suggest that did not happen.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

The States And the Stimulus

June 29th marks the 120-day deadline for states to commit at least 50% of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) $26.6 billion in transportation funds. It is a good time to examine how states are using the money. This report reviews project choices to answer critical questions about states’ accountability to the taxpayers who are providing tens of billions of dollars for new transportation projects.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Connecting California

California’s transportation system is in trouble. Commuters waste time stuck in traffic, rising gasoline prices are draining consumers’ pocketbooks, and our cars and trucks produce too much pollution that contributes to global warming.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Spending the Stimulus

California will receive $ 2.57 billion for surface transportation through ARRA. The citizens of California want to use this money to stimulate the economy and to advance long-term goals. This report provides a 20-item menu for how California can use ARRA stimulus dollars to make the transportation investments that aggressively address the state’s pressing needs. It offers previously unavailable information for citizens and reporters to use in asking whether state officials are choosing the best available ways to invest California’s transportation stimulus money.

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

Pulling a FAST one on our Transportation Future | Sean Doyle

For the first time in a decade, and after roughly three dozen short-term extensions, Congress has pulled together and passed a transportation-funding law lasting longer than two years. There is only one problem: the new law is the wrong deal for the country.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Millennials Want More Public Transportation | Sean Doyle

A new poll shows that access to public transportation is “very important” for Millennials in considering where to live and where to work.  The results support our research over the past few years that found Millennials are driving less than older generations and are more prone to walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.

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Blog Post | Transportation

How Deadly are Your State’s Roads? | Sean Doyle

A new report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows which states have the safest and most dangerous roads.  Here's how the states rank and what we can do about it.

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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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