EPA alleges carmaker used software to circumvent emissions testing

Sept. 19, 2015

The EPA today issued a notice of violation (NOV) of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen, alleging that certain diesel cars include software—a “defeat device”—that circumvents emissions standards for certain air pollutants.

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”

According to the EPA, “California is separately issuing an In-Use Compliance letter to Volkswagen, and EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have both initiated investigations based on Volkswagen’s alleged actions.”

In addition, the EPA stated, “As described in the NOV, a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the standard. The software produced by Volkswagen is a ‘defeat device,’ as defined by the Clean Air Act.” The excess emissions contribute to smog and are linked to health problems including asthma attacks.

Roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2008 may be affected. The EPA said the cars present no safety hazard and remain legal to drive and resell.

According to the New York Times, “Agency officials issued the car company a notice of violation and said it had admitted to the use of a so-called ‘defeat device.’” The NOV applies to certain 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009 to 2015.

The Times reports that the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research group, “…first noticed the discrepancy between Volkswagen’s emissions in testing laboratories and on the road.” The Wall Street Journal adds, “No recall of the Volkswagen cars is currently under way, and the agency said the vehicles remain safe and legal to drive. Volkswagen could have to recall the cars and fix them, officials said, though that could take up to a year.”

According to the Times, “Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department could impose fines of as much as $37,500 for each recalled vehicle, for a possible total penalty of as much ca $18 billion.”

The Times quotes Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, as saying, “This is several steps beyond the violations we’ve seen from other auto companies. [Volkswagen appears] to have designed a system with the intention to mislead consumers and the government. If that’s proven true, it’s remarkable and outrageous. It would merit a heck of a lot more than just a recall and a fine.”

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