It was bound to happen, but we still have to laugh that Texas, of all places, became one of the first states to file a lawsuit against Volkswagen and Audi over the global emissions scandal.
Texas may not exactly be known as an environmentally friendly (or even environmentally cordial) state, but apparently there's a big difference between what Texas permits in some industries (all things energy, for example) and what it will tolerate from others (like certain large German automakers).
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation against the Germany-based car company. 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 oxides at levels about 40 times the legal limit. There are about 500,000 of these diesel VWs in the United States.
Because of the EPA revelation, the TCEQ asked the state to step in over violations to the Texas Clean Air Act, the Texas Water Code and other state environmental regulations.
Never mind the fact that TCEQ environmental regulations have been so lax in Houston that the city tried to enforce its own clean air laws. And let's not even bring up the fact that Texas has been bucking against almost every rule the EPA has created in recent years.
Lots of people were understandably angry about the rigged emissions testing, but Texas decided to go ahead and prove it's the most angry by becoming the first state to file against VW and Audi last Thursday. Attorney General Ken Paxton, never one to miss a chance to divert public attention from his own legal troubles, sallied forth against VW and Audi, filing a pair of lawsuits against both companies. The first lawsuit claims violations of the state consumer protection law, and the second suit, of course, alleges violations of the state's clean air laws.
“For years, Volkswagen intentionally misled consumers about the environmental and performance qualities of the vehicles they sold in Texas,” Paxton stated. “When companies willfully violate the public’s trust, a penalty must be paid, and we will hold these entities responsible.”
The consumer lawsuit is focused on the perceived lack of truthiness on the part of VW and Audi, as outlined in the court documents:
"Beginning with the 2009 model year, defendants began marketing and selling a line of 'clean diesel' vehicles as low-emissions, high-efficiency, and high-performance. However, Defendants’ 'clean diesel' vehicles could only achieve the two latter claims by sacrificing the first. Whether consumers purchased a 'clean diesel' vehicle to be 'green,' to be frugal, or to have fun, consumers did not get what was promised."
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The lawsuit goes on to spell out the ways consumers were purportedly conned by VW's diesel ads, which pitched the vehicles as running on "clean diesel" and being incredibly fuel efficient, even though the cars were able to be as fuel efficient as promised only when the emissions control systems were disabled. The state is suing over 32,000 diesel-engine vehicles sold since 2009. The suit asks for the court to order VW to "restore all money or other property acquired by means of unlawful acts or practices" and to pay civil penalties up to $20,000 per violation. Considering there are 32,000 VW diesel cars in the state, that could add up pretty quick.
And then there's the state's environmental angle. Harris County isn't involved in this one because Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan beat Texas to the punch and filed the county's own suit against VW and Audi at the end of September. But Texas is eager to represent the other 253 counties where Texas Commission on Environmental Quality standards have allegedly been violated. It seems that it's perfectly okay for Texas to violate or simply decline to regulate its own air and water and environmental conditions, but completely unacceptable for another entity to do so.
The fees for these violations could cost VW and Audi quite a bit — Texas is asking for daily fees ranging between $50 and $25,000 for each alleged environmental violation. And this was one of the first state lawsuits against VW and Audi, but it most likely won't be the last. Texas got in there quickly (West Virginia beat the Lone Star State to the punch by only a couple of days), but other state attorney generals are looking closely at the VW scandal, according to USA Today.
That's right. Not only is Texas standing up for emissions controls and cleaner air, the state is even acting as an example to other states. Strange, isn't it?