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United States Suing Volkswagen For Cheating On Emissions Tests — You Won’t Believe The Stunt They Pulled

The United States has filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen for manufacturing vehicles with special software designed to cover up how much pollution they actually emit.

According to Popular Science, the United States is suing the German company on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating the Clean Air Act. In September, the EPA reportedly found a program within Volkswagen vehicle computers that were allowing the company to cheat on emissions tests and escape national regulations.

The software would ensure that the Volkswagen vehicle ran cleanly, within emission regulations, while inside the testing lab. Once the test was over, the program would switch the engine back to standard mode for driving on the open road. This allowed Volkswagen to trick the EPA and the United States into thinking their products ran cleanly all the time; in fact, the engines were running much dirtier outside the testing environment. Approximately 600,000 cars were fitted with this software within the United States, and many more around the world.

Volkswagen cars
Volkswagen vehicles. [Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]
Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division released a statement about the United States’ lawsuit against Volkswagen.

“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.”

According to the Atlantic, the United States filed a complaint in Detroit, Michigan accusing Volkswagen of intentionally designing software to circumvent the requirements of the Clean Air Act, a law specifically designed to reduce the effects of pollution on the environment. The pollutant in question was nitrogen dioxide, a gas of which Volkswagen vehicles emit 40 times the allowed limit. The software within Volkswagen cars was able to detect when the vehicle was being tested and switch to release an acceptable amount of pollution under United States regulations.

After discovering the illegal software, the United States and the Obama administration ordered Volkswagen to remove 500,000 diesel vehicles from the road. But, the scope of the fraud was much larger than that. Volkswagen ultimately owned up to installing the software in 11 million vehicles worldwide. The CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, resigned shortly after that. Top United States Volkwagen executive Michael Horn admitted, “we have totally screwed up.”

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn. [Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]
“We’re alleging that they knew what they were doing, they intentionally violated the law and that the consequences were significant to health,” Cruden added in his statement.

According to Reuters, the lawsuit filed by the United States could cost Volkswagen “billions of dollars.” And, it may be difficult for Volkswagen to defend themselves having already confessed to cheating on the emissions tests. The United States only has to prove that the software was installed, not even that Volkswagen intended to deceive the EPA and skirt emissions regulations.

The only defense Volkswagen seems to have is pleading for a smaller penalty, because the “billions” of potential fines would be “crippling to the company and lead to massive layoffs.”

The United States lawsuit has come as a result of a national push to reduce fossil fuel emissions and reduce the harmful effects of global warming. While many still deny the human impact of climate change, United States President Barack Obama recently claimed that anyone who doesn’t work to resolve global warming is not fit to be a leader.

What do you think? Should Volkswagen be penalized for cheating on emissions tests? Should they receive the maximum penalty? Do you side with the United States and their lawsuit?

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]