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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

Statement: Bipartisan introduction of Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act marks important step in stopping the debt trap

The Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act (VCFCA) was reintroduced in the House Committee on Financial Services on Monday. This bill would limit interest rates on loans and go a long way toward protecting consumers, including veterans, who are often victimized by predatory lenders.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure bill will mean cleaner air, water and energy for U.S.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted 228-206 to build a bridge to a brighter future by passing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Friday. This major bipartisan package will improve our transportation and power infrastructure and ensure clean water and broadband access across the United States over the coming decades. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I got my finances in order | Mike Litt

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I started my estate and end-of-life planning | Mike Litt

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Resources I used to prepare my advance directive | Mike Litt

Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t. 

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: A true consumer’s champ clears hurdle to serve as CFPB director

Rohit Chopra will be the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). By a vote of 50-48 on Thursday, the Senate confirmed that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) commissioner will take on the top position at the CFPB. 

Mike Litt, U.S. PIRG’s consumer campaign director, issued the following statement.

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News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Back to school: financial literacy tips for college students, teens

During this time of year, families are thinking about the children going back to school, and for parents who are sending their kids to college, it can be a bit overwhelming. A key to addressing those concerns is making sure their teens are prepared for “adulting” -- in other words, taking care of their own lives.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: U.S. PIRG applauds Senate introduction of the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act

The Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act (VCFCA) was reintroduced in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on Wednesday. This bill would limit interest rates on loans and go a long way toward protecting consumers, especially veterans, who are often victimized by predatory lenders.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure must be a good deal for our health

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

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Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Consumers for Auto Reliability And Safety (CARS) Foundation | Consumer Protection

Unsafe used cars for sale

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Equifax Breach: One Year Later

A year ago tomorrow, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, we are releasing a report containing suggestions on how state and federal authorities and consumers can safeguard personal information.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide

With this Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, parents, teachers, and students can make more informed decisions while shopping for school supplies this Back to School season. We want to give parents and teachers the option to choose school supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals. This Shopping Guide should serve as a handy tool for finding products free of several types of toxic chemicals.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

America's infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars' worth of new and expanded highways that do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from repairs and 21st century priorities. This report profiles nine highway projects that epitomize the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending, including the proposed $1.5 billion North Spokane Corridor.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Public Health, Transportation

Electric Buses

A new report shows that a full transition to electric buses in Washington State could avoid an average of 89,567 tons of climate-altering pollution each year -- the equivalent of taking 17,291 cars off the road, and highlights King County’s leadership in transitioning to an all-electric bus fleet.

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Blog Post | Transportation

The road to cleaner air | Mac Dressman

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act just passed by Congress provides $2.5 billion in funding specifically for zero-emission electric school buses.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns 10, the future is bright | Mike Litt

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau celebrated its 10th birthday last Wednesday. It begins its second decade refocused on its mission of protecting you and me after a few years of, ironically, championing shady business practices over consumers. The agency’s first decade was full of success, setbacks, and promise.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Tough product safety rules will help babies sleep more safely | Henry Hintermeister

"No parent should ever have to endure the tragedy of losing a child."

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Waking up to the dangers of inclined infant sleepers | Teresa Murray

If you’re stunned that safety standards for inclined sleepers weren’t required before, get this: The new rules don’t take effect for a year. That’s one of the problems in the world of infant sleep.

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Blog Post | Transportation

'Where did all the cars go?' Seattle's traffic unexpectedly thinned during dreaded highway closure

 

Seattle was bracing itself for "Viadoom" when its main highway was set to close. Instead, residents saw an unprecedented drop in the number of cars on the road.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

How safe is our food? Not safe enough, says PIRG Consumer Watchdog team, and it's trending in the wrong direction

Unsafe food recalls in the U.S. are trending the wrong way. From 2013 to 2017, they rose 10 percent overall, and a whopping 83 percent for the most hazardous meat and poultry recalls.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

1 Year After Equifax Data Breach, Here's Everything You Need To Know

One year after announcing the biggest data breach in history, Equifax still hasn’t been held accountable or provided the information and tools consumers need to protect themselves. Since Equifax won’t help protect consumers, WashPIRG is stepping in.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has released research showing that the financial sector overrelies on overdraft fees and non-sufficient funds (NSF) revenue, which reached an estimated $15.47 billion in 2019. Ironically, one of America’s 15 largest banks, Capital One, announced earlier in December that it will eliminate all overdraft and NSF fees.

News Release | WashPIRG Foundation

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned life upside down in early 2020 and commercial flights came to a near-halt, the U.S. government gave the airline industry $50 billion to save jobs and keep the industry afloat. Since then, despite surviving because of their customers’ tax dollars, the airlines repeatedly have canceled and delayed flights, denied refunds and failed at customer service, according to complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation

Report | WashPIRG Foundation

New report highlights how flier complaints have soared as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, and ruin plans. Find out which airlines have the most complaints and what you can do.

Consumer Protection

Not First Class

Our report highlights how flier complaints have soared as airlines cancel flights, deny refunds, and ruin plans. Find out which airlines have the most complaints and what you can do.

 

Consumer Protection

The FCC is starting to fight back against robocalls

Research found that, despite the FCC's recent action, phone companies aren't doing enough to block spoofed calls and scam calls, despite a new law.

 

Consumer Protection

PIRG's consumer watchdogs get to work in wake of T-Mobile data breach

Cell phone carrier T-Mobile has announced that nearly 55 million Americans were affected by a hack of its records, which in some cases compromised Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. In response, PIRG published a tip guide for how those affected can protect themselves against identity theft or "phishing" scams.

 

Transportation

Proposed federal Clean Car standards are a step toward cleaner air

The Biden administration has announced plans to strengthen fuel economy and emissions standards for vehicles, despite industry lobbyists' push for weaker emissions rules. The transportation sector is America's No. 1 source of greenhouse gas pollution, which continues to threaten public health and contribute to global warming.

 
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