The Justice Department filed suit last month against Volkswagen over its emissions-cheating software found in nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the United States, potentially exposing the company to billions in fines for clean air violations. The civil complaint against the German automaker, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges the company illegally installed software designed to make its “clean diesel” engines pass federal emissions standards while undergoing laboratory testing. The vehicles then switched off those measures to boost performance in real-world driving conditions, spewing harmful gases at up to 40 times what is allowed under federal environmental standards. John C. Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, stated:

Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors. The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.

As we have reported, the automaker is in the midst of negotiating a massive mandatory recall with U.S. regulators and potentially faces more than $18 billion in fines for violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The company and its executives could also still face separate criminal charges, while a raft of private class-action lawsuits filed by unhappy VW owners are pending.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen intentionally tampered with the vehicles sold in the U.S. to include what regulators call a “defeat device,” a mechanism specifically designed to game emissions tests. Under the law, automakers are required to disclose any such devices to regulators. Because Volkswagen kept its suspect software secret, the lawsuit alleges the company’s cars were sold without a valid “certificate of conformity” issued by EPA to regulate new cars manufactured or imported into the country.

In addition to producing far more pollution than allowed, experts say the excess nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from the more than half-million VW vehicles had a human cost. A statistical and computer analysis by the Associated Press estimated the extra pollution caused somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths over the last seven years, with the annual toll increasing as more of the diesels were on the road. Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated:

With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution. So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.

On Jan. 15 the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred the Department of Justice’s lawsuit from Michigan to the California federal court. It will be considered there with the 482 other cases against the company.

Source: Associated Press

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