Volkswagen might not face criminal charges in the United States for placing cheating devices in more than 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide. The cheating devices allowed Volkswagen to trick regulators into believing that their diesel vehicles were compliant with emission standards mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), when in actuality, they were emitting pollution up to forty times the allowable amount.
The United States Justice Department is still deciding whether or not to pursue a case against the German car manufacturer. If they do open a case, it would be the first ever criminal case against a car company for not complying with emission standards.
For decades, automobile manufacturers have avoided penalties for failing to comply with environmental standards thanks to a loophole that is present in the Clean Air Act of 1970.
In this case, prosecutors are looking to get around this loophole by charging Volkswagen with lying to officials.
Meanwhile, Germany has already started its own criminal probe against former and current top executives of Volkswagen. Former CEO Martin Winterkorn is one of the executives who is likely to face charges.
Several lawmakers and activists in the United States are hopeful that the investigation against Volkswagen will lead to changes in the law. Many leaders want there to be appropriate penalties put in place for future violations of this nature. Others want loopholes within the 1970 Clean Air Act to be removed.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “The loophole should be closed so there is a specific penalty for auto manufacturers. We will be introducing legislation to close the loophole.”
The United States Justice Department has considered prosecuting car manufacturers that have cheated pollution regulations in the past. However, the department has faced problems with jurisdiction and evidence. Although they haven’t gone through with criminal charges, they have utilized civil penalties, which do not allow for prison sentences to be handed down.
There are some leaders who want to avoid a criminal case against Volkswagen, saying that a legal case would be costly and time consuming.
Former Michigan House Member John Dingell said of civil penalties, “It’s easier, speedier, quicker. The cost to Volkswagen is going to be unbelievable. The risk of them going out of business is very real.”
While civil penalties might be simpler and take less time, Volkswagen isn’t out of the woods for criminal charges just yet.
Spokesperson for the Justice Department Wyn Hornbuckle said, “We take these allegations, and their potential implications for public health and air pollution in the United States, very seriously.”
Volkswagen has yet to comment on the situation.