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Representatives DeSaulnier, Welch, Lowenthal, Watson Coleman, and Lieu Introduce Bill to Establish Criminal Penalties for Polluting Automakers

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Today, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Peter Welch (VT--At Large), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Ted Lieu (CA-33) introduced legislation to establish criminal penalties under the Clean Air Act for automakers that knowingly use so-called "defeat devices" in motor vehicles to bypass emissions tests and violate environmental standards. The Clean Air and Vehicle Technology Accountability Act (H.R. 5024) was introduced following an agreement between Volkswagen (VW) and U.S. regulators, which allows the company to avoid going to trial for its installation of such devices.

"Having had a long history in the California air regulatory field, this is an extreme example, but not unique that a company has chosen to violate public health law and then cut a deal without the decision makers taking personal responsibility. This legislation will address decades of fraudulent actions by industry bad actors," said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier.

"Volkswagen customers are still mad as hell about being deceived by the car marker--and they should be. The company's decision to secretly install a device in cars that bypasses environmental protections was a sham of massive proportions and has eroded the trust of its customers and the public. Our legislation will make auto executives think twice before deciding to rip off their customers and damage the environment," said Congressman Peter Welch.

"The centerpiece of our efforts over the past half-century to reduce vehicle air pollution has been ever-tightening emissions standards. Engineering technology into vehicles to defeat these standards is not only deceiving and cheating the consumers buying these vehicles, but it is doing actual harm to all Americans in the form of greater air pollution. If we are to deter future violations, companies who violate the public trust must be held accountable," said Congressman Alan Lowenthal.

"Misleading American consumers while threatening our environment should come with heavy penalties. Right now, we lack the ability to truly hold bad actors accountable -- even when they manufacture ways to cheat the system. This legislation makes very simple changes that will ensure companies think twice before shirking emissions standards intended to protect our environment, and that their punishment fits their crime when they break the law. I'm proud to join my colleagues as an original cosponsor," said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.

"I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Clean Air and Vehicle Technology Accountability Act. What Volkswagen did was criminal, and prosecutors should be able to bring forward criminal charges against them. Volkswagen deceived millions of people by cheating their emissions tests and unleashed massive amounts of toxic pollutants into the air, harming Americans' health and contributing to climate change. Volkswagen must be held accountable, and I hope that justice will be served," Congressman Ted W. Lieu.

The Clean Air and Vehicle Technology Accountability Act (H.R. 5024) would amend Title II of the Clean Air Act to give authorities the ability to bring criminal charges against automakers who knowingly bypass, defeat, or render inoperable air pollution control monitors in motor vehicles. Current estimates suggest that 11 million VW vehicles worldwide were built with some version of emission evasion software installed, allowing for vehicles to emit up to 40 times the limit under the law. Nearly 600,000 of these vehicles sold across the U.S.

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