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.


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.