The Volkswagen Air Pollution Emissions Litigation

Date01 July 2016
The Volkswagen Air Pollution
Emissions Litigation
by Arnold W. Reitze Jr.
Arnold Reitze is Professor of Law at S.J. Quinney College of Law and a member of the Utah Air Quality Board.
I. The Volkswagen Revelations
On September 18, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protec-
tion Agency (EPA) announced that 482,000 Volkswa-
gen diesel engine vehicles sold in the United States were
programmed to pass emissions tests, but when operated
under normal driving conditions emit air pollutants well
above the legal limit.1 Interestingly, EPA, with a budget
of $12 million to oversee compliance with transportation
regulations, never discovered the cheating that went on for
many years.2 Instead, the International Council on Clean
Transportation (ICCT), a European environmental group,
wanted to know how Volkswagen was meeting U.S. emis-
sion standards that were more stringent than Europe’s.
ICCT hoped to have the U.S. technology adopted for
European motor vehicles.3
ICCT provided a grant of $69,000 to West Virginia
University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and
Emissions (CAFEE) to study emissions from real-world
driving using an onboard portable emissions measure-
ment system.4 After extensively testing various Volkswagen
models in California and road testing diesel vehicles on
a drive to Seattle, the CAFEE researchers concluded that
the vehicle’s emissions were exceeding the Clean Air Act
(CAA)5 standa rds by 5 to 35 times.6 On March 31, 2014,
the results of the study were presented at an industry con-
ference in San Diego.7
EPA and California regulators investigated, and on
September 3, 2015, Volkswagen admitted that it deliber-
1.   , 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 3011
(Oct. 9, 2015).
2. Charlotte Alter, e Man Who Brought Down Volkswagen, T, Nov. 30,
2015, at 100.
3. Dune Lawrence et al., How Could Volkswagen’s Top Engineers Not Have
Known, B B, Oct. 26, 2015, at 52.
4. Alter, supra note 2, at 102.
5. 42 U.S.C. §§7401-7671q, ELR S. CAA §§101-618.
6. Lawrence et al., supra note 3, at 52.
7. Id.
ately outtted its cars with “defeat devices.8 e vehicles
involved in the cheating include model year (MY) 20 09
through 2015 Volkswagen Beetle and Jetta as well as the
MY 2014 and 2015 Passat.9 Subsequently, Volkswagen
announced that about 11 million diesel vehicles were sold
worldwide with aected diesel engines.10 is includes cars
with the 1.6- and 2.0-liter diesel engines sold in Europe.11
According to EPA, Volkswagen inserted lines in the com-
puter code governing the engine performance that activates
the emissions controls when driving patterns are detected
that are consistent with the testing protocol. When the
vehicle’s operation is consistent with road use, the engine
instead is programmed to ma ximize fuel economy, but
emissions increase dramatically.12
Later, it was found that the Volkswagen Golf, Audi A3,
and Porsche models also were programmed to cheat on
emissions test ing.13 On November 2, 2015, EPA and the
California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced that
Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche vehicles with 3-liter diesel
engines have the defeat devices, which added about 10,000
vehicles plus an unknown number of MY 2016 vehicles to
the vehicles alleged to violate the CAA.14 Volkswagen ini-
tially estimated the nancial impact of these transgressions
may cost t he company over $9.24 billion, but by April
2016, the estimate had increased to $18.2 billion to cover
the global emissions cheating scandal.15
8. Id.
9. Patrick Ambrosio, -
, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 2805 (Sept. 25, 2015).
10. Arne Delfs et al.,  
Takes Hard Line, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 3076 (Oct. 16, 2015).
11. Andrea Barbara Schuessler, Volkswagen Admits Europe Manipulations, Ger-
many’s Transport Minister Reveals, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 2809 (Sept. 25,
12. Lawrence et al., supra note 3, at 52.
13. Christie Smythe et al.,    
, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 2805 (Sept. 25, 2015);
Alter, supra note 2, at 103.
14. Patrick Ambrosio,     
Devices in Diesel Vehicles, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 3351 (Nov. 6, 2015); Patrick
Ambrosio, 
, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 3585 (Nov. 27, 2015).
15. Christoph Rauwa, 
Protect Jobs, 46 Env’t Rep. (BNA) 3654 (Dec. 4, 2015); Patrick Ambrosio,
Author’s Note. Research assistance was provided by J.D. candidate
    
Copyright © 2016 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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