Criminal charges should be brought to Volkswagen

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars' gross emissions violations.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars’ gross emissions violations.

Another major corporation has been caught in an environmental scandal, and again the news media is as sympathetic as possible. Last week, the EPA confronted German automaker Volkswagen about allegations that certain of their diesel-engine vehicles violated Clean Air Act standards. The response from Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn was the kind of “Aw, shucks” apology we’ve become accustomed to from the powerful: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

But Winterkorn did far more than violate trust. According to the LA Times, Volkswagen has sold nearly half a million affected cars in the U.S. since 2009 and 11 million worldwide. These cars, which were heavily marketed as burning “clean diesel,” were emitting up to 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Software in the car’s computer – apparently common enough in the industry that it has a nickname, a “defeat device” – tricks inspectors by switching over to a special mode at inspection time. That excess nitrogen oxide combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide and smog. Continue reading

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