The device — otherwise known as “defeat devices” by the EPA — could detect when the vehicles were in a test, essentially triggering the devices to induce lower output readings during testing, but higher outputs during normal road use.
The complaint goes on to allege that the German-based company’s actions violated the Clean Air Act because it sold vehicles with nitrogen oxide emission outputs far higher than initially reported. Volkswagen allegedly installed the “defeat devices” in some of their most popular units — such as Jetta, Beetle, Audi, Golf, and Porsche Cayenne.
Nitric Oxide pollution, the smog-inducing pollution that the devices muted, contributes to ground-level ozone and global warming, regulators say. Nitric Oxide pollutants are also tied to asthma and other respiratory diseases, according to the statement on the Justice website.
Some critics of both the EPA and the Obama administration, however, suggest that at least some of the blame for Volkswagen’s actions can be laid at the feet of environmental regulators themselves.
The EPA ratcheted down allowable Nitric Oxide emissions from 1.2 grams per mile to 0.007 grams per mile in 2008 in attempts to improve air quality — but in the process, according to EPA critics, made it difficult for auto manufacturers to comply with the costly new standards. Regulators are now considering tacking another 30 percent on to the allowable emissions output.
The EPA argues that the increased standards will create new innovations allowing drivers to more effectively straddle the line between environmental health and everyday transportation needs.
Critics disagree, with some suggesting that the increase standards are meant as a cudgel to regulate fossil fuel and diesel fuel engines out of existence.
“The president promises that we could have the same vehicle we love with no change at twice the fuel economy by 2025, but that’s a big lie,” Sean McAlinden of the Center for Automotive Research noted in a 2015 article on The Week.
The Justice Department’s investigation, according to its website, is ongoing, and permits federal investigators to discuss with Volkswagen ways in which it can right the alleged wrongs it has perpetrated, as well as how it can come back in compliance with the EPA’s emission mandates.
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