US States Jumping Into Investigation of VW Emissions Deception

2 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California Said to Begin Separate Volkswagen Emissions Probe.

A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from at least 30 states and the District of Columbia has joined a fast-moving investigation into the possibilities of consumer fraud and environmental violations by the German automaker Volkswagen. California will conduct its own probe of Volkswagen AG in the widening fallout from the company’s admission that 11 million of its diesel vehicles use software to cheat emissions tests, a person familiar with the matter said.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was included in statements Sept. 24 announcing a joint investigation by 27 states, will be able to make use of California’s more stringent environmental laws in a separate investigation, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the probe wasn’t public. The multistate inquiry is taking shape unusually quickly after last week’s announcement by Volkswagen that it had installed software in 11 million diesel cars that had been designed to trick emissions testers, making it appear that the vehicles met pollution standards.

An official with the state’s Department of Justice said Thursday that California is no longer participating in the investigation by more than two dozen attorneys general. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Sept. 18 that Volkswagen installed deceptive software to allow vehicles to pass emissions tests while exceeding pollution limits when driven. One difference this time is that the target of the investigation, Volkswagen, has admitted that it intended to deceive regulators. “From the standpoint of an investigator, this case is like arriving at a buffet table that has everything spread out, and it’s just a question of choosing which course to taste first,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and former state attorney general from Connecticut who has worked on multistate cases.

While diesel-engine vehicles with the so-called defeat device complied with U.S. and California standards in tests, the software switched off emissions controls on the road to improve performance, generating pollution at levels as much as 40 times the limit. California and federal regulators uncovered evidence that forced Volkswagen to admit it skirted clean air rules by rigging emissions tests for about 500,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. Jeannine Ginivan, a Volkswagen spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return an e-mail after regular business hours Thursday seeking comment on California’s investigation. The multistate investigation will follow two parallel tracks, one focusing on possible instances of fraud against consumers and one focusing on potential violations of environmental laws, according to people in several states who were briefed on the investigation.

Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in an e-mail that the agency is pursuing the enforcement investigation it started and working with the attorney general. “We are also cooperating with all other agencies that have authority to pursue violations,” she said. “We haven’t dropped out of anything. The subpoenas also seek examples of advertising and marketing materials, including those that appeared on the web and in social media, and records of Volkswagen’s organizational structure in its engineering and marketing divisions. “A problem of this scope, potentially affecting millions of families across the country, demands an intensive multistate investigation,” Mr. Schneiderman wrote in an email. “The stakes could not be higher for the health and safety of our communities who, if Volkswagen’s own admissions are true, have for years been breathing air containing excess pollution from their vehicles.” On Wednesday, the office of the Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan, served a subpoena on the company as well, according to her office, declining to elaborate. Tierney, a former attorney general in Maine who now runs a program at Columbia University that conducts research on state attorneys general, is less optimistic that will move swiftly.

Tierney said, might be “incalculable,” with each false advertisement to consumers, for example, carrying a potential penalty. “This product was designed to operate illegally, and that is very serious,” he said.

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