Well that didn't take long. It's only been two weeks since the news broke that Volkswagen's diesel cars have been secretly polluting 40 times the legal amount allowed, but Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is already wading into the fray with a lawsuit filed on behalf of Harris County for circumventing state emissions requirements and "undermining Harris County's efforts to improve air quality." Yep, the air around here sucks and Ryan has found a way to blame VW.
Unless you live under a rock, you've heard about the big VW scandal. About two weeks ago the Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation against the German-based car company. (Fun fact: Adolph Hitler actually ordered the company to create an affordable car that average German people could buy, ordering the manufacturing of the first "People's Wagon" in 1933.) The EPA revealed that VW has been installing "defeat devices" on its diesel engines since at least 2009. The devices, which have been put on about 11 million VW diesel engines around the world, allowed the cars to pass emissions tests with flying colors. But once the cars were on the road and running normally the diesel engines would actually spew out nitrogen oxide at levels about 40 times the legal limit. There are about 500,000 of these diesel VWs in the United States.
Ever since the news got out the lawsuits against VW have been coming fast and furious from all over the country. A Seattle-based law firm filed a consumer class-action lawsuit within hours of the story breaking and there were already more than 30 suits filed by last Friday, according to NPR.
Never one to miss anything that even smells like an opportunity, Ryan is also getting in on the action. Ryan is seeking civil penalties in excess of $100 million for the estimated 6,000 diesel VWs sold in Harris County. However, he noted that the number of tampered vehicles could increase as the county continues its investigation. So what's the angle? Well, it's that Harris County has (and this is a shocker) really bad air and that this lousy air quality is linked, at least lawsuit-wise, to VW's evil pollution-heavy diesel cars:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"Harris County has long been plagued with poor air quality due to emissions from various sources, ranging from industrial to vehicular traffic," the petition states. "Harris County is designated as non-attainment for ozone, which even at low levels can cause health impacts including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. Ozone and particulate matter are associated with increased coincidence of of illness and premature mortality."
So Ryan is claiming that 6,000 rigged-up diesel cars would have made a difference in the pollution levels of a county with a population of more than 4 million people, most of them drivers. It's an interesting narrative, trying to saddle one company with the blame for Harris County's notoriously bad air. “Harris County, with its massive traffic and petrochemical industry, has had difficulty in meeting federal clean air requirements,” Ryan stated Tuesday. “These tampered cars were emitting nitrogen oxides, or NOx, every day well in excess of legal limits. Volkswagen’s deceitful acts have damaged the county’s ability to improve air quality, reach clean air attainment status and protect our citizens.”
Harris County Commissioners have approved Houston attorney Richard Mithoff to lead the litigation against Volkswagen and Audi of America LLC. Ryan already sold this lawsuit to the Harris County Commissioners Court, which voted to approve the lawsuit on before it was filed Tuesday. Now let's see if Ryan and company can sell it to the courts.