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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Why Volkswagen’s Cheating On Emissions Tests Matters


A few years ago, I wrote an article about the Volkswagen Group committing to strict carbon emissions limits. Recently, someone on Twitter asked me how I now feel about VW. I answered that I am disgusted.

Why am I disgusted with the automaker? By now, most of you know the Environmental Protection Agency found certain VW models, possibly as many as 11 million cars in total, had been rigged with a device that reduced nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions when tested. An analysis by the Guardian found that those U.S. VW vehicles “would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 tons of the toxic gas into the air each year if they had covered the average annual U.S. mileage.” Complying with the EPA’s standards would have meant those vehicles would only have emitted 1,039 tons of NOx per year.

Both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) initiated investigations into VW. The groups found the device designed to cheat emissions tests after researchers at West Virginia University did an independent analysis. After the EPA and CARB sent letters to VW, the company admitted the cars contained the devices.

“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, in a statement. “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.”
Why is that such a big deal? NOx contributes to ozone and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution. In the San Joaquin Valley where I live, both types of pollution are all too common. The Valley has one of the nation’s worst air basins. PM2.5 is linked with a slew of health problems, including asthma. Valley residents have some of the highest asthma rates.

So, what VW did truly does endanger public health. As the Bloomberg Review states, “What Volkswagen did appears to be in a category all its own, and it deserves special condemnation.” However, Bloomberg adds, “But other carmakers game the system, and regulators tolerate it. That is the dirty little secret of emissions and efficiency testing, and the EPA needs to clean it up.”

Not only does VW need to do what needs to be done to ensure this kind of cheating on emissions tests never occurs, but the EPA also needs to do a better job of testing and enforcing its own standards. The American people, including my fellow Valley residents, deserve better.

Image credit: Flickr/DaDaAce

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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