The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil suit against Volkswagen today for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act by using illegal cheating devices on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles.
"The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation's clean air laws," said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden.
A senior official at the Department of Justice tells Reuters the penalties in the lawsuit could cost the German automaker billions of dollars. The official also says the suit doesn't preclude the Justice Department from filing criminal charges against Volkswagen.
The suit will be filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, before heading to Northern California where the class-action lawsuits will be heard.
UPDATE: Volkswagen has issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed.
"Today, the United States Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a civil lawsuit against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The claims in the Complaint pertain to the 2.0L and 3.0L TDI engine equipped vehicles that have been the subject of EPA investigations and allege violations of the same provisions of the Clean Air Act as were noted in the EPA’s September 18 and November 2 Notices of Violation.
Volkswagen will continue to work cooperatively with the EPA on developing remedies to bring the TDI vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible. In addition, we are working with Kenneth Feinberg to develop an independent, fair and swift process for resolving private consumer claims relating to these issues. We will continue to cooperate with all government agencies investigating these matters."
We also have a total amount of penalties that Volkswagen could be facing. In the suit, U.S. environmental officials are asking for these penalties to be applied,
- $37,500 for each Volkswagen diesel vehicle that emits more than the legal limit of emissions
- $37,500 for each Volkswagen diesel vehicle that was 'tampered'
- Up to $3,750 for each defeat device
- Up to $37,500 for each day since 2009 that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act
Add it all up and Volkswagen could be looking at a maximum of $40 billion in fines.
Source: Reuters, U.S. Department of Justice
Press Release is on Page 2
United States Files Complaint Against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche for Alleged Clean Air Act Violations
The Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today filed a civil complaint 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).
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”
“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 Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “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.”
“Today’s complaint is the first stage in bringing Volkswagen to justice for failing to disclose the defeat device while seeking certification for its diesel vehicles from EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan. “The alleged misrepresentations allowed almost 600,000 diesel engines to emit excessive air pollution across the country, harming our health and cheating consumers.”
Consistent with EPA’s Notices of Violation, issued on Sept. 18, 2015, for 2.0 liter engines and Nov. 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. Motor vehicles equipped with illegal defeat devices cannot be certified.
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. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory and at the test site, but during normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at levels up to 40 times the EPA compliance level. In total, the complaint covers approximately 499,000 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.
The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen also equipped certain 3.0 liter vehicles with software that senses when the vehicle is undergoing federal emissions testing. When the vehicle senses the test procedure, it operates in a “temperature conditioning” mode and meets emissions standards. At all other times, including during normal vehicle operation, the vehicles operate in a “normal mode” that permits NOx emissions of up to nine times the federal standard. In total, the complaint covers approximately 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.
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.
Today’s filing of a civil complaint under Sections 204 and 205 of the Clean Air Act seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. A civil complaint does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies. The United States will seek to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California. The United States’ investigation is ongoing, in close coordination with CARB. EPA and CARB have been in active discussion with Volkswagen about potential remedies and recalls to address the noncompliance, and those discussions are ongoing.
Affected 2.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
- Jetta (2009-2015)
- Jetta Sportwagen (2009-2014)
- Beetle (2013-2015)
- Beetle Convertible (2013-2015)
- Audi A3 (2010-2015)
- Golf (2010-2015)
- Golf Sportwagen (2015)
- Passat (2012-2015)
Affected 3.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
- Volkswagen Touareg (2009-2016)
- Porsche Cayenne (2013-2016)
- Audi A6 Quattro (2014-2016)
- Audi A7 Quattro (2014-2016)
- Audi A8 (2014 – 2016)
- Audi A8L (2014-2016)
- Audi Q5 (2014-2016)
- Audi Q7 (2009-2015)