Environmental Groups Push Back Against Musk Volkswagen Plan


15 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association of California, have sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board opposing the ideas put forth by Elon Musk and 44 other business leaders for responding to the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal, according to Green Car Reports.

Volkswagen TDI engine

The group headed by Elon Musk has urged CARB not to force Volkswagen to spend a lot of money on fines and measures to fix its diesel powered cars. Since 2007, Volkswagen sold almost a half million so called “clean diesel” vehicles that failed to comply with California and federal emissions standards. In particular, the cars spewed as much as 40 times the permitted about of NOx pollutants into the atmosphere. However, company engineers had programmed the cars computers to disguise that fact from regulators. Worldwide, nearly 11 million cars were sold with the cheating software installed.

Instead, the environmentalists urge CARB to be proactive rather then punitive. They recommend the regulatory board force Volkswagen to greatly accelerate its plans to build plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars. Their argument takes the position that the NOx pollution has already been released into the atmosphere and no amount of fines or penalties will take it back out. They suggest it would better serve the residents of California if there were more low or zero emissions cars on the road and as soon as possible.

But the environmental groups see it differently. While they support CARB’s efforts to “transition California’s transportation system to a zero emission vehicle future,” they believe the proposal put forward by Elon Musk and others fails to address “the real health impacts” resulting from Volkswages’s non-compliant diesel engines.

They also say the proposal “offers no remedy to the purchasers of the defective VW diesel vehicles.” Many buyers purchased their cars believing they were helping to reduce vehicle emissions. Now, they are stuck with cars that can’t be inspected because they don’t meet state regulations, can’t be sold because nobody wants them, and can’t be traded in because dealers don’t want to deal with the legal hassles caused by the scandal.

Rather than forgiving Volkswagen for its sins, the environmentalists are  calling for a full investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. Vigorous prosecution is essential to “deterring this kind of intentional and egregious violation of laws that protect public health,” the letter says.

The group recommends that CARB dedicate the money from any penalties it imposes to promote electric car ownership, particularly in lower income communities. The thinking is that poor people cannot afford new cars and tend to drive older vehicles that have high emissions. Getting them to drive zero emission cars instead would benefit the state’s air quality far more than giving an incentive to some Silicon Valley fat cat to trade in his Porsche Cayenne Turbo S for a Tesla Model S.

Volkswagen should be required to pay for pollution mitigation measures that equal “several times” the total amount of excess emissions produced by its diesel vehicles. They also want Volkswagen to pay for more extensive near-road air quality monitoring, the letter’s sponsors suggest.

Volkswagen has already submitted a proposal to CARB that outlines how it wants to deal with the problems caused its diesel engine cars. It has told European regulators that many of the cars can be modified with simple software updates or minor equipment changes. CARB has taken that proposal under advisement and extended the deadline when it must decide what steps if feels are appropriate. Details of Volkswagen’s plan have not been made public.


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I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • James Rowland

    … and this is why we can’t have nice things.

    I can’t fault the good intentions of environmental groups, but the methods and strategies they employ often leave a lot to be desired.

  • Hopeful to be Useful

    Fact the future is about going forward, the past should be examined to assist decisions going forward.

  • evfan

    As often repeated “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    Environmental Groups start with lofty goals and good intentions, but often they are led by idealists, who cannot see the big picture.

    It is not as if anyone that drives an offending VW car will die within 10 minutes. So while we know that VW did bad things, there is no need to pretend this is the biggest environmental disaster of the decade.

    In fact, these vehicles emit pollution at a level that was acceptable 15 years ago, and pollute way less than diesel vehicles even older to that.

    Elon Musk et al started a worthy conversation. Rather than having VW spend billions to slightly improve vehicles that are getting close to their end of life, isn’t there something better we can ask them to do? And what would that be? Sure, some of VW’s money must go to compensate the owners of offending cars, but not all of it has to.

    And I think there is precedent for this type of approach: Remember the tobacco settlements and all the money that became available for a host a good causes.

    • Steve Hanley

      I pretty much agree with you, except my impression is a lot of the tobacco settlement money got swept in with general revenue and went to pay for things that little to do with tobacco.

      Another reason why the Musk crowd may have the most sensible approach. Fines and penalties might start out being dedicated to pollution mitigation or other worthwhile purposes, but the odds are good they would end up offsetting some of California’s budget deficit instead, politics being what they are.

  • Agnar Schnell

    Psst… It’s done, it happened, they screwed the EPA b/c government bureaucrats couldn’t get smart. Get over it and move on.

  • Shiggity

    Germany bet on diesel and the US bet on EVs / plug-ins.

    Take your losses now Germany. Your 10’s of billions in losses.

    The US will now start taking all of your car sales, thank you.

    • Raphael Sturm

      Who in the US, besides Tesla is betting on EVs? Maybe a small part of GM thinks EVs are a good idea. Chrysler hates everything electric and Ford is ok with plug ins, as long as most people still buy the F150 instead. BMW did more for EVs than those two and they are still a German company. We should not distinguish by nation, but by intentions and actions.

  • Mike A Diference

    Anyone who stands publicly for degradation of DUE PROCESS AT THE SUM OF COUNTLESS hard working people’s investments shall be cast out of influential position. Lobbyist are the destruction of true compassion and love. Monies and efforts directed at any other party than those directly misled and damaged by the fraud is a waste of valuable time. Pray for our children, have mercy on man as they know not what they do Lord!

    • Steven Grey

      We are not here to discuss the fact you believe in an imaginary magic man in the sky. How the holy rollers love posting boards!!

      • Mike A Diference

        Interesting how you chose one word and disregard the message. If you were lied to as the customers were, I’m willing to bet; based on your actions, you would be the first one phoning the local news. We ARE here to discuss the TRUTH, just saying. Good day to you. Oh yeah, when this happens to you, look me up I’ll be right there backing you up as well. ~God Bless Brother

        • Steven Grey

          Again, save the god bless b.s. for your cult following, not us.

          As far as the diesels, i don’t know anyone who bought one to be “green,” thinking they were cleaner than a gas engine. They bought it for mileage, period. Thinking it would save them a buck in the long run. Now, some will attempt to milk the situation for all its worth hoping that VW will replace it with a new car (not gonna happen) and claim it’s all because they care about the air! If they cared about the air they would have bought a bicycle, not car. And for the record, I would be doing the same thing. I don’t blame them! Sounds like a very christian thing to do, to me!

  • John Boner (R)

    Just imagine if VW played by the rules…. or worse yet what the air of major cities would be like if all the car companies played by VW rules.

  • Julian Cox

    The truth is that it is highly improbable that VW is capable of putting an honest effort into eradicating internal combustion engines (its core business). If you give it back its money and force it to invest in EVs it would likely result in a pit of corruption rather than any product worth turning away an VW ICE vehicle for. Better to hasten their bankruptcy I am sorry to say so that Tesla or some other EV business can buy its assets cheaply as soon as possible. Note, Musk did not lead the letter, he merely signed it according to his statement. I can see why Musk supported the letter and in ideal world good sense would dictate that VW did transition through the pain of reorganising itself around EV technology but that is not how the world works. VW’s engine production workers will demand to keep their jobs, shareholders will demand the company does not abandon its engine production assets or proven sources of income, its dealers will refuse to take a hit on service revenues and its corporate officers are vulnerable to charges of breach of fiduciary duty to ignore any of these things. VW is a casualty of any future that people in general should aspire to. So is Toyota, Ford, GM and all the rest whose main product is in fact engines and transmissions and most of the rest being body shells and chassis for cars with engines with anything really useful to EV production outsourced.

  • super390

    Just read that the House of Representatives has introduced a bill to make class-action lawsuits practically impossible by requiring the parties prove they have already been damaged, and by requiring all participants to show they have each received equal damage.

    In effect, the VW Bailout Bill.

    The bad guys just keep getting stronger.

    • Steve Hanley

      Hmmmm….the timing IS odd, isn’t it? Still, restrictions on class action suits have been a corporate priority for some time. Capitalism plays by the Golden Rule, to wit, he who has the most gold makes the rules.