Volkswagen agrees to pay more than $1 million for Clean Air Act violation
Volkswagen of America will pay $1.1 million, the
largest civil penalty ever assessed, to resolve its failure to promptly
notify and correct a defective oxygen sensor affecting at least 326,000
of their 1999, 2000 and 2001 Golfs, Jettas and New Beetles, federal
officials announced on June 15.
The action comes under an agreement filed with the U.S. District Court
for the District of Columbia. As part of this settlement, Volkswagen
completed a voluntary recall of the affected vehicles at a cost of over
$26 million. Vehicles with the defect may release thousands of tons of
harmful pollutants including nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHC) and carbon
monoxide (CO). NMHC are key reactants in the production of ozone, a
major contributor to cancer-causing smog. CO impairs breathing and is
especially harmful to children, people with asthma, and the elderly.
"Reliable and effective automobile pollution control systems are an
important part of this nation's air pollution reduction strategy," said
Thomas V. Skinner, acting assistant administrator of EPA's Office of
Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Kelly A. Johnson, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice
Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the
"penalty imposed in this case underscores auto manufacturers' obligation
to promptly alert the EPA of defects in emission control devices. The
Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforce companies'
responsibility to adhere to environmental laws."
The defect occurs gradually on engine start-up in cool and damp
environments when the oxygen sensor (part of the emissions control
system) cracks from "thermal shock." The dashboard indicator light
illuminates, telling the owner to "Check Engine." Volkswagen received
numerous warranty claims associated with cracked oxygen sensors during
the winter of 1999-2000, but did not report the defect to the EPA until
June 2001. EPA had already discovered excess emissions from a randomly
selected vehicle during a routine test.
In addition to paying the civil penalty, pursuant to the consent decree, Volkswagen will also improve its emissions defect
investigation and reporting system to ensure future compliance.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period
and final court approval. For more information on recalls, see:
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.