Settlements resolving claims over Volkswagen’s (VW) emissions cheat and the federal Clean Air Act do not bar air pollution complaints lodged by Hillsborough County, Florida, and Salt Lake County, Utah, lawyers for the counties told a California federal court.
Volkswagen is pressing the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to toss the counties’ claims that they are entitled to compensation for pollution caused by VW’s emissions cheat under state laws. Those complaints are currently included in multidistrict litigation (MDL) consolidated in the California court.
In 2014, West Virginia University researchers and other members of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) discovered Volkswagen had intentionally programmed about half a million turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to meet U.S. emissions standards during testing but shut off during normal operation. This cheat or “defeat device” allowed the vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legal air pollution limit.
Hillsborough County and Salt Lake County argue that past settlements and penalties paid by VW aren’t a reason to dismiss their own clams. VW should be fined up to $5,000 per day for every day its cars spewed illegal amounts of pollution in an eight-year period. The counties argue that VW is currently paying half the amount.
“These defendants have paid nothing to these counties; the fact the defendants have settled with others does not justify them escaping accountability under our laws they intentionally and fraudulently violated and for the harm they caused to the counties and our county residents,” a lawyer for Salt Lake County told Law360.
The counties also argue that the onus of meeting air quality standards falls on them – a burden that local governments carry even more after the Trump administration slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and shifted more responsibility for environmental monitoring and enforcement to state and county governments.
A Hillsborough County regulation prohibits the installation of defeat devices and a Utah regulation bars anyone from tampering with emissions control devices, the plaintiffs’ filing stated. VW maintains that it isn’t subject to these regulations.
“By tampering with its vehicles’ emissions controls for nearly a decade, VW made it more difficult for the counties to attain baseline air quality standards, cheated the effectiveness of their inspection and maintenance programs and threatened the health of their citizens,” the filing said.
Hillsborough County is represented by Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles PC, Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort PA and the Law Office of Thomas L. Young PA.
Salt Lake County is represented by the Office of the Salt Lake County District Attorney and Dewsnup King Olsen Worel Havas Mortensen.