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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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: USPIRG applauds Biden nominees Chopra to head CFPB and Gensler to chair SEC

President-elect Joe Biden announced Monday that he intends to nominate Rohit Chopra as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director and Gary Gensler as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 6

In our sixth annual Highway Boondoggles report we profile six budget-busting highway expansion projects that are poised to go forward amid COVID-related budget shortfalls.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Nader's "Unsafe At Any Speed" 55th Anniversary! | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, on the 55th anniversary of Ralph Nader's landmark "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the built-in dangers of 1960s cars, as exemplified by the General Motors Corvair, his colleagues led by Joan Claybrook have published a new report: "Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966." The report makes recommendations to President-elect Joe Biden about how to revitalize and strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which Claybrook ran during the Jimmy Carter administration.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Reimagining the street: How bus lanes speed up the morning commute and why it matters | Henry Hintermeister

As major American cities look for ways to lower carbon emissions, they’re looking to low-tech, low-cost bus lanes to help them. Here’s the case for why more cities should get on board.

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

COVID-19 pandemic worsens existing consumer problems with car buying

Consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regarding vehicle loans and leases have increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. The analysis suggests that consumers are facing abusive and deceptive practices from the automobile lending industry.

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

Heartburn medication recalls continue due to carcinogen concerns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed today that the drug manufacturers Dr. Reddy’s and Perrigo have initiated a voluntary recall of all of their generic versions of Zantac (ranitidine) -- commonly used to treat heartburn -- due to carcinogen contamination.

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

Proposed rule would remove unsafe, inclined infant sleepers from market

Despite more than 50 infant deaths from inclined sleepers, including the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and the Kids II Rocking Sleeper, many versions of this type of product remain for sale and in homes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is proposing a new rule that would virtually end the sale of inclined sleepers. 

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

Investigation finds 1 in 9 used cars for sale at AutoNation have unrepaired safety recalls

AutoNation, America’s largest auto retailer, is selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls including explosive Takata airbags, faulty GM ignition switches and defects with no fix available.

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

New analysis uncovers unsafe blood pressure medication distributed in US

A new analysis of publicly available information from the FDA by U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund finds only 26 percent of a class of recalled blood pressure medications have been assessed for carcinogen contamiantion -- and the majority had some lots with higher levels than the FDA considers safe.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

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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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Pages

Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Is On The Job Protecting Consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

While powerful special interests, Senators, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the White House call for dismantling the CFPB, firing its excellent director, or worse, CFPB continues to be an agency that is on the job, conducting business as usual to protect consumers. Its latest "Monthly Complaint Snapshot" is an open window into the many reasons we need a strong CFPB.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This week, CFPB Sues TCF Bank for overdraft schemes and loan servicer Navient for "failing" students | Ed Mierzwinski

Despite an escalation of threats to exterminate the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau, CFPB continues to protect consumers well. This week it sued TCF Bank over deceptive overdraft marketing schemes and it sued Navient, the student loan servicer and Sallie Mae spinoff, for "failing" students at every step of the repayment process. The TCF complaint notes that its CEO brazenly named his boat "Overdraft."

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Report Finds 1 In 4 Consumers Feel "Threatened" By Debt Collector Tactics | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and Washington, DC Attorney General Karl Racine for release of new CFPB data on debt collector abuses. Fully 1 in 4 consumers feel "threatened" by abusive, possibly illegal, debt collector tactics. The release also included an emphasis on problems with the "debt buyer" industry, comprised of firms that buy older, uncollected debt for as little as less than a penny on the dollar.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

This New Year, Celebrate the CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

This month, we published our 8th report based on analyzing consumer complaints collected in the CFPB's Public Consumer Complaint Database. The release of "Big Banks, Big Overdraft Fees" provides a good year-end opportunity to summarize a few of the reasons to be thankful for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over in July 2011 as the first federal regulator with just one job: protecting consumers from unfair financial practices. The idea of the CFPB needs no defense, only more defenders.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Addicted to Hand Sanitizer: A Wells Fargo Scandal Update | Ed Mierzwinski

More questions continue to be raised about the Wells Fargo scandal. When did it really start- 2013, 2011 or 2005? What did execs know and when did they know it? How many frontline employees were fired because they complained as whistleblowers? Does setting up a fake account constitute criminal identity theft? Should deposed chairman and CEO John Stumpf go to jail? If the culture was pure, how did a frontline worker get "addicted to (drinking) hand sanitizer? Should he pay back more bonus compensation? Here's a flyaround of some of what's going on. By the way, did you know that even the Better Business Bureau has thrown Wells out?

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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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