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to all-electric alternatives can reduce long-term costs, gas consumption and harmful pollution, while bringing our outdated transportation system into the 21st century.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

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Report | WashPIRG | Consumer Protection

Seeking Safer Packaging

Seeking Safer Packaging is a project of Green Century Capital Management, Inc. (Green Century) and As You Sow. The authors sent letters to 20 companies in the packaged food industry to identify the actions the companies are taking to address concerns regarding BPA. Fourteen companies replied. Company scores are based entirely on their responses to these letters.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection

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We’re all told to watch out for BPA in drinking bottles and baby products. But how about BPA in the cans that contain our food? A recent study by Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reveals that the toxic chemical BPA is readily found in canned foods. BPAs are often used in the liners of canned food to keep the aluminum from interacting with the food.

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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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Our statement on Vice President Kamala Harris' announced reforms to reduce the impact of medical debt on Americans’ finances.

Consumer Protection

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

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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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