The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, filed a civil complaint on Jan. 4 in federal court in Detroit, Michigan against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations, LLC, Porsche AG, and Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (collectively referred to as Volkswagen).
The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution. The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
“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,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “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.”
“VW’s illegal defeat devices have resulted in thousands of tons of excess NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions in California, a state where more than 12 million people live in areas that exceed air quality standards set to protect public health,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “The California Air Resources Board is fully coordinating its investigation with the federal EPA and DOJ to address the environmental harm VW has caused.”
Consistent with EPA’s Notices of Violation, issued on September 18, 2015 for 2.0 liter engines, and November 2, 2015 for certain 3.0 liter engines, the complaint alleges that the defeat devices cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards during normal driving conditions. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution. The complaint alleges that Volkswagen equipped certain 2.0 liter vehicles with software that detects when the car is being tested for compliance with EPA emissions standards and turns on full emissions controls only during that testing process. During normal driving situations the effectiveness of the emissions control devices is greatly reduced.
NOx pollution contributes to harmful ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. These pollutants are linked with asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter is also associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk of health effects from exposure to these pollutants. Recent studies indicate that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, including respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue, and premature death.
The civil complaint seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. A civil complaint does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies.