Hogan Administration sues Volkswagen, seeks penalties for violations of environmental laws
Baltimore, MD (July 19, 2016) – The Hogan Administration announced today the filing of a lawsuit against automaker Volkswagen for installing devices that allowed thousands of vehicles to exceed emissions standards and pollute Maryland’s air.
The suit, filed today in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, seeks financial penalties from Volkswagen in connection with the automaker’s admission that it installed software known as “defeat devices” to circumvent emissions standards. Such action violates Maryland environmental law.
“The air Marylanders now breathe is the cleanest it’s been in decades, and we will not stand for Volkswagen’s dirty tactics that undercut our environmental progress,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “The Hogan Administration is committed to reducing pollution from tailpipes and power plants and holding accountable those who threaten the health and well being of our communities and watersheds. Volkswagen must get its act in gear and pay the price for breaking some of the most stringent laws in the country protecting the waters, lands and lungs of Marylanders in the Chesapeake Bay region.”
“Maryland has worked tirelessly, through Maryland’s Healthy Air Act and Clean Cars Act, as well as stringent regulations adopted by the Department of the Environment, to clean our air. As our complaint sets out, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche installed defeat devices in their cars to trick regulators and to deceive the public; they did so knowing that their conduct was illegal and their misconduct has hindered our efforts to clean the air and to clean the Chesapeake Bay. Their disregard for the health of our citizens and their disregard for our environment must be punished,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.
The Maryland Department of the Environment is the plaintiff in the suit, represented by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General. Secretary Grumbles, in coordination with Attorney General Frosh, announced the filing of Maryland’s suit. Maryland is among a group of states taking action against Volkswagen in separate suits.
In its suit, Maryland asks the court to order Volkswagen to pay a civil penalty of $25,000 for each day of each violation of state law. Maryland and consumers who purchased Volkswagens will also benefit from recent settlements resulting from actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the state of California and a multi-state coalition that includes Maryland.
The defeat devices installed by Volkswagen allow cars to meet emissions standards in a laboratory or a testing station, but during normal operation those vehicles emit nitrogen oxides at up to 40 times federal standards. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog.
Unhealthy levels of ozone can irritate the respiratory system — causing coughing, throat irritation and chest pains and aggravating asthma and other chronic lung diseases. Ozone and other air pollutants have also been linked to premature death. NOx air emissions are also a significant source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Volkswagen’s actions are all the more egregious given the particularly important role that additional NOx reductions could have played in further cleaning up the air in Maryland. Ozone levels in Maryland are subject to the “perfect storm” for ozone air pollution, where unique meteorology and geography line up with transported pollution from vehicles and power plants west of Maryland and local pollution from the south, primarily cars and trucks along the Interstate-95 corridor.
Maryland has made dramatic progress in cleaning up both ozone and fine particulate air pollution. Just five years ago, Maryland was recording the highest ozone levels east of the Mississippi River. Maryland is currently measuring ozone levels statewide that meet the 2008, 75-parts-per-billion federal ozone standard. Based on 2015 air monitoring data, 15 of the state’s 18 ozone monitors are already measuring levels below the new, 2015 standard of 70 parts per billion, and the other three monitors are measuring levels ranging from 71 to 73 parts per billion.
The increase in NOx reductions from Volkswagen might have played a significant role in the three monitors measuring levels that are not in attainment of the new standard. The Department of the Environment estimates that additional NOx emissions from the affected Volkswagen vehicles are the equivalent of an additional 375,000 vehicles on Maryland roads each day.
Maryland came into statewide attainment for fine particle pollution in 2012 and fine particle levels continue to drop. Reductions of NOx and sulfur dioxide in Maryland and in areas upwind of Maryland were the primary driver linked to the positive trends in fine particulate pollution.
All vehicles sold in the United States must comply with EPA or California Air Resources Board (CARB) emissions standards. Maryland, through its Clean Cars Program, adopted the CARB standards. Maryland is one of 12 states outside California to adopt the CARB standards.
The suit states that defeat devices were installed in certain Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles – model year 2011-2015 diesel light duty vehicles with 2.0 and 3.0 liter engines. As of October 2015, 12,935 vehicles at issue were registered in Maryland.
The suit alleges: violation of the Maryland Clean Car Act by bringing those vehicles into Maryland without valid CARB certification; violation of Maryland’s emissions limits for NOx; violation of Maryland’s low emissions program by submitting false reports; and violation of Maryland’s anti-tampering regulations by installation of defeat devices.Click here for the official complaint for civil penalties.
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