Staggering Consequences of VW Emissions Cheating ‘Very Strong Deterrent,’ EPA Official Says

The massive fines and criminal indictments of Volkswagen executives are a “very strong deterrent” for automakers to attempt cheating on their own emissions tests, an EPA official said.

Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, spoke with reporters at a meeting of automotive engineers in Washington. The penalties for VW have had a big impact on the industry, with other automakers taking notice.

“It gets everybody’s attention,” he said.

Seven VW executives have been indicted and the automaker has reached $22 billion in claims from owners, regulators, states, and dealers. The EPA first announced findings from the diesel emissions cheating scandal in Sept. 2015, leading to investigations and penalties being fined throughout Europe and Asia.

The federal agency had been drawn into scrutiny over its own emissions testing procedures and their accuracy. The EPA initiated a new round of real-world compliance testing soon after the VW scandal broke. That decision led to finding that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had been illegally using hidden software to allow excess diesel emissions to go undetected, which FCA has denied.

Christopher Grundler EPA

EPA’s Christopher Grundler

One lesson the EPA learned from the VW scandal is “we need to avoid being too predictable in our compliance oversight,” Grundler said.

The potential of President Trump’s EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt taking over as head of the agency has brought up interest in the future EPA enforcing vehicle emissions rules. During his Senate confirmation hearing, the issue of the agency’s early ruling on finalizing the 2022-25 vehicle greenhouse gas emission rules was a hot topic for the EPA nominee.

Pruitt told the Senate panel that he will review that EPA decision. Grundler noted that a new EPA administrator can revisit a regulation but must follow the same process used to make the initial decision.

“We will be prepared to brief him and his team on the work we did,” Grundler said.

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Grundler said that aggressive enforcement is key to automakers complying with emissions rules.

“We aim with our enforcement to make sure the cost of non-compliance is always much higher than the cost of complying with our laws,” Grundler said.

EPA is planning to publicly post more non-business confidential information on vehicle testing, Grundler said. That will include emissions recalls and defect reports to bring about more transparency in automaker reporting.

The agency wants to see results turn out the same in the test lab as they would out on the road.

“We want to discourage manufacturers from simply designing to the tests,” Grundler said.

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