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Volkswagen

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Volkswagen

Volkswagen

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Congressional Record: 114th Congress
September 24, 2015


Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise to speak about recent revelations that Volkswagen woefully deceived regulators and the general public to artificially lower emissions of its 2009 to 2015 Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles. These actions raise significant consumer, environmental, and public health concerns.

According to the EPA's Notice of Violation of the Clean Air Act, Volkswagen used a sophisticated software algorithm on certain vehicles that detected when vehicles were undergoing emissions testing. This software--referred to as a ``defeat device''--allows vehicles to meet emissions standards during testing, but under normal driving situations, these same vehicles emit nitrogen oxides up to 40 times the allowable emissions standards.

This is unbelievable. I think we can imagine that such technology exists, but I don't think we ever thought that one of our major international car companies would be alleged to have used it. So far approximately 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States and 11 million cars worldwide have been affected. A deliberate attempt like this by a company to mislead regulators and the general public is completely unacceptable.

This raises serious questions that need answers: Why did Volkswagen, for more than a year, claim that the discrepancies in the emissions tests and the levels on the road were a technical error? Who at Volkswagen signed off on the defeat device? Did executives at Volkswagen know these actions were put into place to deliberately deceive regulators and the general public? Does the EPA have the necessary testing systems in place to detect such devices that trick the software? Have other auto manufacturers of clean diesel vehicles been tampering with their software to get around emissions standards? How do we ensure that this never happens again?

This is a matter of public trust. Consumers were lied to and sold a product under false pretenses. Those consumers who brought certain Volkswagen Jettas, Beetles, Passats, and certain Audis with 2-liter diesel engines believed they were purchasing a vehicle that would provide premium fuel economy and performance while also meeting strict emissions standards. Who wouldn't be enticed by these vehicles after they were named the ``Green Car of the Year'' and ``Eco-Friendly Car of the Year'' by national publications?

We now know these consumers were duped and that they will now have to bring their vehicles under compliance to meet Federal emissions standards. Volkswagen will likely pay for the repairs but what about the costs of reduced fuel economy and lower resale values?

Congress intentionally included strong enforceability elements into the Clean Air Act statute. Regulations promulgated under the Clean Air Act aimed to protect human health and the environment by reducing nitrogen oxide and other pollutants. Motor vehicles are the primary source of nitrogen oxide pollution from transportation. These highly reactive gases play a major role in atmospheric reactions that produce smog.

That smog accelerates climate change and exacerbates respiratory diseases that harm human health, including asthma, which affects 23 million Americans, including 6 million children.

That is why we have emissions standards. It is not just some far-off number that is put into place; it is to protect children from getting asthma; it is to protect the world from heating up; it is to ensure that we protect our environment for generations to come.

The Clean Air Act requires automakers to certify to the EPA that their vehicles will meet applicable Federal emissions standards to control air pollution. Through this process, Volkswagen deceived regulators into believing these vehicles produced low emissions. Vehicles with the defeat device emit anywhere from 5 to 40 times more nitrogen oxide than allowed by law while on the road. If we pick a number in the middle of the range--let's say 20 times as much--it would mean that Volkswagen's fleet in the U.S. produces 46,657 more tons of harmful smog.

Changes to the EPA's emissions standards testing process are needed as well. I have written to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to express that concern. The EPA needs to explain why their systems did not detect this deceptive software and what changes the Agency will be making with their testing processes. I strongly urge the EPA to establish robust safeguards to prevent automakers from gaming the system and prevent this from happening again.

There must also be a full investigation into Volkswagen's actions. The Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation into the company's actions, and I urge DOJ to leave no stone unturned in its investigation to determine how a company could have willfully deceived Federal regulators and the general public.

Volkswagen must conduct a thorough and comprehensive public education campaign to ensure that all owners of these vehicles are made aware of the defect and are informed about where and when they can go to get their vehicle fixed.

The Department of Transportation, which has expertise with vehicle recalls, should also play an active role. If we learned anything from the General Motors and Takata airbag recalls, it is that recalls need to be broad enough from the outset and cover affected vehicle models and years, the general public needs to know how and where to get their vehicle repaired, and automakers must have a system in place to make timely repairs with replacement parts that truly fix the problem.

Other agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, should also take a serious look at how they can help in this process.

As a member of both the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe that consumers must be protected. I also believe Volkswagen's competitors that actually follow the law should be able to play on an even playing field. Other car companies that follow the law did the right thing. They put the right systems in place, and they should not be penalized because one car company did this. They should have been able to play on an even playing field. If there is an uneven playing field, it hurts American employees, it hurts American companies, and mostly it hurts American consumers.

The actions by Volkswagen to deliberately deceive consumers around the world about the emissions levels in their cars is fundamentally about a breach in trust. Consumers thought they were getting the same product that was being advertised, when what they were getting was a product that met those standards only when it was tested, only for 1 day, and only for the time of the emissions testing.

As Federal agencies move forward with their investigation, it is critical that we get to the bottom of this to figure out how this happened, what the extent was, and if it is happening with any other automakers to ensure that what happened never happens again.

Thank you, Madam President.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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