Volkswagen is being sued by the US justice department for allegedly violating the ‘Clean Air Act’ by installing emissions-cheating software in its diesel vehicles.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed the lawsuit in federal court on Monday.
“The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution,” the filing said.
The defeat devices allowed VW’s diesel engines to pass federal emissions standards while undergoing laboratory testing.
2010 VW Golf TDI with defeat device displaying “Clean Diesel” at a US auto show.
However, in real world driving conditions the feature turned off – meaning that the vehicles were actually emitting 40 times more greenhouse gases than US federal environmental standards call for while on the road.
Government regulators said in September that the German automaker could face fines in excess of $18 billion.
“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said John C Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint,” he added.
Assistant administrator Cynthia Giles for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, commented: “With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,”
She added: “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”
A peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Research Letters estimated that approximately 59 premature deaths will be caused by the excess pollution produced between 2008 and 2015 by vehicles equipped with the defeat device in the US.
The German automotive giant admitted last September that it fitted ‘defeat devices’ on 11 million vehicles worldwide.
The company has set aside billions of euros to deal with the fallout.