Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Environmental groups have estimated that the cheating scandal caused at least 32.2 million tons of extra carbon pollution into the atmosphere, equal to roughly 6.8 million cars. (Photo: European Parliament/flickr/cc)

Environmental groups have estimated that the cheating scandal caused at least 32.2 million tons of extra carbon pollution into the atmosphere, equal to roughly 6.8 million cars. (Photo: European Parliament/flickr/cc)

'Unlawful Pollution': Volkswagen Charged With Crimes Against Climate

U.S. Department of Justice files civil suit on behalf of Environmental Protection Agency

Lauren McCauley

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday filed suit against Volkswagen, charging that the German auto-maker deliberately rigged cars to cheat emissions tests resulting in potentially millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and untold damage to the atmosphere.

The civil suit, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards. Further, the complaint states that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by bringing to U.S. market vehicles that were designed differently than the company had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

"With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA.

Environmental groups have estimated that the cheating scandal caused at least 32.2 million tons of extra carbon pollution into the atmosphere, equal to roughly 6.8 million cars.

"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," Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center of Biological Diversity, said after the scandal first erupted in September when the EPA sent a Notice of Violation of the Clean Air Act to the manufacturer and its subsidiaries.

CBD had previously calculated that Volkswagen should owe as much as $25 billion in fines for damages to climate and air quality. In a statement on Monday, Galvin said he was "heartened" by the development and urged the DOJ to pursue the full estimated compensation for the emissions cheating.

In addition to its environmental impact, pollution by nitrogen oxides (or NOx) has been linked to grave health problems, namely asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses—with children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease particularly at risk. What's more, recent studies have shown that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, and may also include damage to lung tissue and premature death.

Monday's suit seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. According to the EPA, it does not preclude the government from seeking other "legal remedies." Though Giles noted that "recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward."

"Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," said assistant attorney general John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·


Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo