EPA’s Letters to Volkswagen Warning of Clean Air Act Violations

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has investigated and continues to investigate Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Porsche AG, and Porsche Cars North America (collectively, VW) for compliance with the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq., and its implementing regulations. As detailed in its Notices of Violation to VW, the EPA has determined that VW manufactured and installed illegal defeat devices in certain model year 2009 through 2016 diesel vehicles equipped with 2.0 and 3.0 liter engines.

These illegal defeat devices were specifically designed to detect when the vehicle was undergoing emissions testing required by the EPA and state regulators. When the device sensed that the vehicle was being tested, it would intentionally reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system to show compliance with EPA emissions levels. However, when the vehicle was not being tested, the emissions controls were not fully engaged, which allowed the vehicles to emit up to 40 times more pollution than permitted under the Clean Air Act. Therefore, on September 18, 2015, the EPA issued to VW its first Notice of Violation that the automaker violated important provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Additionally, in its first Notice of Violation, the EPA reminded VW that vehicles equipped with the defeat devices could not be certified, and federal law requires that each vehicle sold in the U.S. be covered by an EPA-issued certificate of conformity. By making and selling the vehicles with the defeat devices, the EPA warned VW that it violated two provisions of the Clean Air Act.

On November 2, 2015, the EPA issued a second Notice of Violation to VW, reiterating the company’s violations of the Clean Air Act and notifying VW that it found additional vehicles affected by the defeat devices. The EPA stated that given the design of the defeat devices, VW knew or should have known that the software bypassed, defeated, or rendered inoperative the emissions controls. The EPA warned VW that it may be subject to civil penalties and may come under investigation by the United States Department of Justice.

California has initiated its own investigation of VW and the defeat devices, and the state is working closely with the EPA on additional testing of other diesel model vehicles.