This weekend, the respected German newspaper Die Welt reported that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not rest on fines and fixes for the "Clean Diesel" technology that relied on a software cheat to beat emissions testing while releasing up to 1 million tons of NOx pollution each year.
Instead, under the subheader "VW not enthused about EPA plans," Die Welt reports that EPA demands include production of electric cars at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee and an obligation to build a network of electric charging stations. It is not clear whether EPA's demands relate to production quotas, new models, or expansion of production of the existing electric and hybrid motors in VW's current range of automobiles.
Although VW and EPA both declined to comment officially to Die Welt, the paper reports that "At VW, they are naturally not enthusiastic over the plans in Washington, which will cost the company additional umpteen millions."
It seems like not such a bad idea though. Often, the American authorities can lower the size of fines in exchange for an agreement that might benefit the company more than a simple monetary penalty. A somewhat unique aspect of the prosecution of corporate crimes under regulations such as those of EPA or OSHA (for occupational safety) is the multiplier factor: the law sets a maximum penalty for a violation; but the EPA can consider every car and every day each car operated as a separate violation. So do the math, 600,000 cars times how many days times even not anywhere near the maximum penalty will still add up to a hard hit. With the threat of huge fines, the EPA can then set about negotiating a more win-win scenario.
Discussions over how to fix the affected cars also continue. Die Welt notes that Americans often ignore recall actions, and unlike German laws, the American laws cannot force VW owners to bring their cars in for a fix, when and if VW figures out what that fix will be. So EPA cannot ensure that the cars already in service will not continue to add to the pollution burden for many years to come.
How it will all come out remains to be seen. But if negotiations could result in a boost for electric car penetration in the American market, and help VW regain trust by supporting American jobs and a clean car infrastructure, perhaps the VW emissions scandal could be turned into a benefit for consumers and the environment after all.