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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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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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Statement: U.S. PIRG helps reintroduce Rep. Maloney’s Overdraft Protection Act

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) hosted a press conference with U.S. PIRG and other consumer advocacy organizations on Wednesday to reintroduce the Overdraft Protection Act.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

U.S. PIRG applauds Congressional repeal of the OCC’s ‘Fake Lender’ Rule

Our statement on passage of a Congressional Review Act resolution that would protect consumers from predatory moneylenders.

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Blog Post | Transportation

PIRG advocates champion clean transportation on the Hill | Henry Hintermeister

PIRG advocates met with federal lawmakers and their aides from April 6-8 to make the case for a suite of transportation solutions.

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News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: Safe Sleep Act passes House, awaits vote in Senate

In an effort to protect infants from unsafe consumer products, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Hack doesn’t absolve Equifax of being careless with consumers’ data

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center | Transportation

New report: 108 million Americans live in areas that experienced at least 100 days of polluted air in 2018

One-third of all Americans live in areas that suffered through at least 100 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Today is the last day to file a claim against Equifax

Today is the final day that the 147 million consumer-victims of the massive Equifax data breach can file a claim against the credit bureau to get compensation of “up to” $125 each. However, so many consumers have already filed claims that when the compensation fund is divided, victims probably won’t get very much cash. 

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News Release | WashPIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

“Bruce Speight Act” would protect children from lead exposure

The Washington State House will have an initial hearing today on a bill to get lead out of drinking water at schools.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Food

New report: Meat recalls remain high; produce and processed food recalls drop

Contaminated food, from Tyson's chicken strips containing chunks of metal to E. coli-laden romaine lettuce, posed a serious danger to Americans’ health in 2019. U.S. PIRG Education Fund How Safe Is Our Food? report found recalls for produce and processed food have fallen 34 percent since 2016, but meat and poultry recalls are up 65 percent since 2013. 

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Report | WashPIRG | Transportation

Fix-It-First

One out of every twenty bridges in Washington is likely to be deficient, for a total of 394 deficient bridges. An unacceptable 5.1 percent of bridges statewide are rated structurally deficient. According to 2009 inspection data and costs, Washington would need $2.31 billion to bring all of our bridges into a state of good repair. By comparison, Washington spent $93 million total on bridge repair and replacement in 2008. There’s a clear need for robust investment in repairing and replacing our bridges.

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Big Banks, Bigger Fees

Since Congress largely deregulated consumer deposit (checking and savings) accounts beginning in the early 1980s, the PIRGs have tracked bank deposit account fee changes and documented the banks’ long-term strategy to raise fees, invent new fees and make it harder to avoid fees. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Analysis of H.R. 1, House Continuing Budget Resolution

Analysis of H.R. 1, House Continuing Budget Resolution

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Report | WashPIRG | Consumer Protection

2010 Trouble in Toyland toy safety report

Over the past twenty five years, the PIRG report has identified hazards in toys and children’s products that could cause an acute injury from small parts that pose a choking hazard, to strangulation hazards from cords on pull toys, to laceration hazards from edges that are too sharp.  Our report has led to at least 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped us to advocate for stronger federal laws to protect children from unsafe products.

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Report | WashPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland: The 24th Annual Survey Of Toy Safety

The 2009 Trouble in Toyland report is the 24th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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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.

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards | Matt Casale

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

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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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