Joining the chorus of watchdogs who say Volkswagen (VW) must pay for its corporate crime, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on Tuesday released an analysis charging that financial penalties for the company's environmental violations should be no less than $25.1 billion in the United States alone.
While VW Chief Executive Matthias Müller stressed on Wednesday that "there were no deaths, and our cars were, and are safe," the evidence suggests otherwise.
CBD points out that VW's vast cheating scandal on smog testing emitted powerful greenhouse gases equivalent to adding at least 32.2 million tons of extra carbon pollution into the atmosphere, or the emissions of 6.8 million cars.
"Make no mistake: What happened here is a national and international disaster, and history will mention it in the same breath as Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill."
—Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity
And that number could be even higher. Also Tuesday, CBD filed a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking a full accounting of the actual amount of pollution released as a result of the emissions-fixing debacle—information that’s likely to drive up the total estimated penalties.
Pollution caused by automobiles is known to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer. The World Health Organization stated in September that globally, more than 3 million people die prematurely each year from prolonged exposure to air pollution.
"What Volkswagen did wasn’t just consumer fraud, it was a crime against our climate and against future generations relying on us for a livable planet," said Peter Galvin, director of programs at CBD. "The public has a right to know exactly what greenhouse gas pollution was released and in what amounts. What’s clear, though, is that this will have a far-reaching effect on our clean air and climate."
The $25.1 billion figure, which does not include potential penalties related to recalls, consumer payments, and other factors not related to environmental damage, includes $18 billion in Clean Air Act penalties and another $7.1 billion for the damage to the world’s climate based on the social and ecological cost of burning fossil fuels.
"Make no mistake: What happened here is a national and international disaster, and history will mention it in the same breath as Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill," Galvin said. "Volkswagen did this intentionally and knew that the effect would be a staggering release of pollution. It has to be held to account for what it’s done—and we must signal to other companies that this sort of crime can never be tolerated."