DOJ asks for potential fines exceeding $50 billion from VW for emissions scam

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) today formally filed a civil complaint in a Detroit, Michigan federal court against Volkswagen (VW) for violating U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards and the Clean Air Act. If approved, VW could face monetary penalties exceeding $50 billion.

The complaint alleged that VW installed illegal emission control defeat devices in nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles, causing them to emit excessive and harmful air pollution. In addition, the company was charged with selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States motor vehicles that did not conform with what was described in certification applications submitted to EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Filed on behalf of EPA, the complaint named 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).

EPA had previously filed Notices of Violation for the above on September 15, 2015 for 2.0 liter engines, and on November2, 2015 for certain 3.0 liter engines.

“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.”

“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.”

Speaking for CARB, Chair Mary D. Nichols said, “VW’s illegal defeat devices have resulted in thousands of tons of excess NOx emissions in California, a state where more than 12 million people live in areas that exceed air quality standards set to protect public health. The California Air Resources Board is fully coordinating its investigation with the federal EPA and DOJ to address the environmental harm VW has caused.”

The violations for the 2.0 liter engines affected approximately 499,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year. With programming that turned on full emission controls only when the vehicles were being tested for emission compliance, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) during normal driving.

Similarly, software on approximately 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles had software that sensed when a federal emissions test was being done and then put the vehicles into a “temperature conditioning” mode to meet the standards. Otherwise, when operating normally, NOx emissions up to nine times the federal standard occurred.

NOx is a precursor to photochemical smog and fine-particulate matter both of which severely impact Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley. These pollutants impact those with asthma, heart disease, and other respiratory ailments, particularly in children and the elderly.

In today’s filing, DOJ asked for civil penalties of up to $32,500 for each violation that occurred before January 13, 2009, and up to $37,500 for those that occurred after. VW would also be prevented from importing or offering for sale any engine vehicle that was not certified as complying with emission standards.

According to the filing, the monetary penalties could be interpreted to apply to each violation of 3 different sections of the Clean Air Act of which VW ran afoul. In addition, DOJ is asking for monetary penalties of $2,750 per defeat device installed prior to January 13, 2009, and $3,750 per defeat device after that date.

If approved, total monetary penalties could approach $50 to $70 billion.

The following 2.0 liter diesel vehicles were affected:

  • 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)

The following 3.0 liter diesel models were affected:

  • 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)

Further information about EPA and its actions against VW may be found at the following link: