Advancing Public Health Protections In Our Case Against Volkswagen

By Cynthia Giles

For years, Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” marketing campaign was geared toward environmentally-conscious consumers eager to help reduce pollution. We now know that Volkswagen duped these consumers, and that in fact its cars emit up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx pollution. But after steadfast work by colleagues across the federal government and the State of California, this distortion to the market for truly green cars in the U.S. is finally going to be remedied.

Last month, a federal judge in California approved a groundbreaking settlement that covers nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. This partial settlement holds Volkswagen accountable for its illegal actions, and puts in place remedies for the harm it caused to our air. In addition to requiring Volkswagen to offer to buy back the violating cars to stop the ongoing pollution, the settlement requires Volkswagen to mitigate the illegal emissions, and to make zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) investments that will have a lasting impact on public health and clean transportation in America.

The ZEV investment requirement delivers on the clean air promise that Volkswagen originally made but failed to deliver to its customers. Volkswagen has to invest $2 billion nationwide to accelerate growth in the ZEV market overall, under terms that ensure that all Americans benefit:

  •  VW is explicitly required to solicit and consider input from states, municipalities, tribes and other federal agencies before it makes ZEV investment decisions. VW’s investment plans will also be available on the web, and will have to include the evidence and basis for VW’s conclusion that the investments will advance use of ZEVs. This robust process of stakeholder input and public transparency will help ensure a credible and effective business investment strategy that benefits all Americans, regardless of the car they drive.
  • VW’s ZEV investments and its public outreach efforts must be brand neutral. That means that all ZEV vehicles using industry standard technology – not just the ones VW makes – have to be able to use the ZEV infrastructure. And it means that ZEV outreach cannot feature or favor VW’s vehicles. The agreement sets strict limits to make sure VW adheres to this essential requirement so that everyone interested in cleaner transportation – businesses, governments and consumers – will benefit.
  • The ZEV investment plan will be updated every 30 months, ensuring that the investments account for changes in ZEV technology and the ZEV market. The same process and opportunity for stakeholder input, and the same accountability measures, will apply every step of the way.

EPA’s role in the ZEV investment is limited but essential: EPA, working with the Justice Department, is going to ensure that VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral, and that VW complies with all the terms of the settlement. EPA does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions, and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement – but we will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.

This settlement can make a real difference in advancing the rapidly growing market for clean vehicles. It ensures that Volkswagen finally delivers on the promise it made for cleaner air and a cleaner transportation future.

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