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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

STATEMENT: U.S. PIRG applauds SEC’s climate disclosure rule

Our statement on the Securities and Exchange Commission's newly proposed rule that would require publicly traded companies to improve and standardize the information they disclose about their greenhouse gas emissions.

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News Release | WashPIRG & Environment Washington | Transportation

Statement: EPA returns authority to Washington and 16 other states to limit pollution from cars and trucks

To promote clean air and expedite a reduction of transportation emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday it would restore California’s clean cars waiver under the Clean Air Act.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Predatory Loans for Puppies Must be Stopped, Say Consumer and Animal Welfare Advocates

In advance of National Love Your Pet Day on February 20, U.S. PIRG and other members of the Stop the Debt Trap coalition are teaming up with animal welfare advocates to launch a campaign to stop TAB Bank from making predatory puppy loans, many of which go to buy puppies from puppy mills.

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Pages

News Release | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Report: Airlines' refund policies, scheduling problems irk flyers

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

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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.

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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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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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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

While lead in toys has become less prevalent in recent years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested several models of one of today’s hottest toys, fidget spinners, for the toxic heavy metal. Laboratory results indicated that two fidget spinners purchased at Target and distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. contained extremely high levels of lead. U.S. PIRG Education Fund calls on Target and Bulls i Toy to immediately recall these two fidget spinners and investigate how such high levels of lead were found in these toys. Also, we call on the U.S.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

Older consumers are at risk of harm from predatory financial behavior. An analysis of more than 72,000 financial complaints submitted by older consumers (those 62 years of age and older) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, or Consumer Bureau) and contained in its Consumer Complaint Database suggests that mistreatment of older consumers by financial companies is widespread.

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Consumer Protection

Medical Debt Malpractice

Medical debt collectors often employ aggressive tactics and attempt to collect debt from the wrong customers – putting consumers' credit records at risk. Medical debt accounts for more than half of all collection items that appear on consumer credit reports. A review of 17,701 medical debt collection complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that problems with medical debt collection are widespread and harm Americans across the country.

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Pages

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. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

What I decided to do after shopping for long-term care insurance | Mike Litt

Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities. 

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

How I’m supercharging my savings with socially responsible investing (SRI) | Mike Litt

Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund. 

After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.

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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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Pages

Blog Post

Many communities were cut off by highway projects. A new program aims to help.

Blog Post

Our Consumer Campaign Director was invited to speak at the Consumer Federation of America’s (CFA) 56th Annual Consumer Assembly on a panel about consumer protections and climate change.

Blog Post

U.S. PIRG submitted a public comment letter supporting the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed climate disclosures rule and made recommendations to strengthen it.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) unveiled two proposals Wednesday designed to improve the accuracy and transparency of the composition and marketing of mutual funds that sellers claim are responsible when it comes to environmental, social and governance issues.

Consumer Protection

GM heeds consumer groups' advocacy, commits to not sell used cars with safety issues

We commend General Motors for its new commitment not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired safety recall defects on its soon-to-be-launched used car platform, CarBravo.

 

Transportation

Money for nothing? How to make better use of our transportation dollars.

"Shifting Gears," a report released by our research partner U.S. PIRG Education Fund, examines the failure of America's outdated transportation finance system — one that too often sacrifices funding for clean, sustainable options like transit or biking infrastructure in favor of wasteful road expansions.

 

Consumer Protection

Farmers want to fix their stuff. Tractor dealer consolidation is getting in the way.

John Deere, which controls 53% of the country’s large tractor market, has consolidated a huge percentage of its dealership locations into large chains — leading to costly repair bills for farmers and delays that can put their crops at risk.

 

Consumer Protection

Recalls of dangerous products are often too little, too late

America's product recall system is so broken that a product linked to a 2011 death was just recalled this past year. It's a problem our research partners at U.S. PIRG Education Fund grapple with in a recent report, which examines the relationship between these recalls and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

 
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