Senators condemn Volkswagen's actions that misled hundreds of thousands of consumers and resulted in tens of thousands of tons of additional pollution emissions
Senators call for thorough but expeditious investigation
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to take strong civil and criminal actions against Volkswagen for any violations following the German carmaker’s actions that misled hundreds of thousands of American consumers and resulted in tens of thousands of tons of additional pollution emissions. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the senators called for a “thorough but expeditious” investigation.
“Officials at Volkswagen should be granted no get out of jail free card, and the Department should accept no plea agreement with Volkswagen that does not ensure any and all information regarding criminal acts by high level officials is provided to the Department,” wrote Klobuchar and Blumenthal. “The U.S. government needs to make it clear that these actions, whether involving safety defects, consumer deception, or regulatory violations, will not be tolerated by the American public.”
Recent reports revealed that Volkswagen willfully deceived regulators and the general public to artificially lower emissions of its 2009-2015 Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles. Volkswagen installed a “defeat device” on nearly 500,000 of these vehicles that hid levels of nitrogen oxides as high as 40 times that of allowable U.S. emissions standards. Approximately 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States and 11 million cars worldwide have been affected.
Klobuchar and Blumenthal serve together on both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee.
Klobuchar has been a leader in the U.S. Senate in protecting consumers and holding those responsible for wrongdoing accountable. A former prosecutor, she made the prosecution of white collar crimes a priority during her time as county attorney, and as a senator, she has pushed for criminal white collar penalties in national cases, including the recent prosecution of peanut company executives responsible for a salmonella outbreak that sickened 714 people in 46 states and may have contributed to nine deaths. Recently, Klobuchar sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and took to the Senate floor in response to the Volkswagen revelations to question the agency’s diesel emissions testing process; call on the agency to immediately address consumer, environmental, and public health concerns; and urge the agency to establish robust safeguards to prevent automakers from gaming the system again. Following the call from Klobuchar, the EPA has announced it will be bolstering its diesel emissions testing process.
Senator Blumenthal is the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security, which has jurisdiction over NHTSA and auto safety laws, as well as the FTC and its mission to prevent unfair and deceptive practices. A vocal advocate for consumers, he was a leader in the push for corporate accountability in the GM ignition switch case and the ongoing saga of defective Takata airbags. Senator Blumenthal is the author of the Hide No Harm Act, which would make it a crime for a corporate officer to knowingly conceal the fact that a corporate action or product poses a danger of death or serious physical injury to consumers and workers.
The full text of the senators’ letter to DOJ is below:
Dear Attorney General Lynch:
We write to you today deeply concerned about Volkswagen’s willful evasion of U.S. emission standards on nearly 500,000 Model Year 2009-2015 Volkswagen and Audi diesel passenger vehicles. Volkswagen developed and installed a “defeat device” in these vehicles, which artificially lowered emission standards, deceiving consumers and endangering public health. According to The Guardian, Volkswagen’s actions resulted in the emission of tens of thousands of tons of additional pollution. Just as important, Volkswagen appears to have misled hundreds of thousands of customers about the car they were purchasing.
The notice of violation of the Clean Air Act issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that Volkswagen has been installing defeat devices to specifically circumvent environmental testing in some of their diesel vehicles since 2009 and continued to do so through 2015 models. Such a blatant violation of the Clean Air Act must be met with an appropriately strong response.
We are particularly concerned that Volkswagen and individual executives appear to have made multiple false statements to the government, which would violate 18 USC Sec. 1001. Officials at Volkswagen should be granted no get out of jail free card, and the Department should accept no plea agreement with Volkswagen that does not ensure any and all information regarding criminal acts by high level officials is provided to the Department.
We urge the Department of Justice’s criminal investigations to be thorough but expeditious. Additionally, we encourage the Department of Justice, in coordination with other agencies, to take strong civil and criminal actions against Volkswagen and any individual for any violations.
The recent criminal and deceptive actions by some automakers is unacceptable. The U.S. government needs to make it clear that these actions, whether involving safety defects, consumer deception, or regulatory violations, will not be tolerated by the American public.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your full and thorough investigation.