EPA and California Allege Volkswagen Diesels Willfully Circumvented Clean Air Act

Today the U.S. EPA said it is handing a notice of violation (NOV) to VW and Audi alleging deliberate evading of emission testing for certain air pollutants.

The NOV alleges nearly half a million four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 include software in a “defeat device” that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants. The EPA says cheating software lets cars seem to meet emissions standards while being tested, but they emit “40 times the standard” of allowable nitrogen oxides while driving.

The vehicles may need to be recalled in a PR crisis now unfolding for the German automaker.

EPA is stating VW made clear and conscious violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the NOV was issued collectively to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America.

Separately, California is issuing an In-Use Compliance letter to Volkswagen, and EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have both initiated investigations based on Volkswagen’s alleged actions. 


“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”


The EPA says “it is incumbent” on Volkswagen to initiate a recall fix for all the affected cars, although these vehicles it notes are safe to drive and do not present a safety hazard at this time.

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Volkswagen in response issued a brief statement.

“Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Volkswagen AG and Audi AG received today notice from the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Justice and the California Air Resources Board of an investigation related to certain emissions compliance matters,” said the automaker in a prepared statement. “VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Meanwhile, in a press release the EPA is laying out the case.

Under the Clean Air Act, it says, manufacturers must certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution, and every vehicle sold in the U.S. must be covered by an EPA-issued certificate of conformity.

“Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices, which reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system during normal driving conditions, cannot be certified,” says the EPA. “By making and selling vehicles with defeat devices that allowed for higher levels of air emissions than were certified to EPA, Volkswagen violated two important provisions of the Clean Air Act.”

The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2008. 

Affected diesel models include:

• Jetta (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Beetle (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Audi A3 (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Golf (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Passat (Model Years 2014-2015)

The EPA said in the release VW may be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the violations alleged in the NOV.
 This could total up to $18 billion if the EPA leverages its maximum find of $37,500 per vehicles.