California Said to Begin Separate Volkswagen Emissions Probe

  • Attorney general said to rely on state's environmental laws
  • California previously joined multistate probe of Volkswagen

California will conduct its own probe of Volkswagen AG in the widening fallout from the company’s admission that 11 million of its diesel vehicles use software to cheat emissions tests, a person familiar with the matter said.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was included in statements Sept. 24 announcing a joint investigation by 27 states, will be able to make use of California’s more stringent environmental laws in a separate investigation, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the probe wasn’t public.

The investigation was spurred by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Sept. 18 that Volkswagen installed deceptive software to allow vehicles to pass emissions tests while exceeding pollution limits when driven.

While diesel-engine vehicles with the so-called defeat device complied with U.S. and California standards in tests, the software switched off emissions controls on the road to improve performance, generating pollution at levels as much as 40 times the limit. The EPA estimates that 482,000 of the 11 million vehicles made with the device were sold in the U.S.

The other states, including Illinois and Texas, have said they would pursue the investigation under consumer-protection and environmental laws.

Jeannine Ginivan, a Volkswagen spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return an e-mail after regular business hours Thursday seeking comment on California’s investigation.

Volkswagen, which has admitted to systematically cheating for years on U.S. air-pollution tests, could face as much as $18 billion in fines under the Clean Air Act in the U.S., based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum per-vehicle penalty. The automaker also faces more than 190 lawsuits by car owners.

Volkswagen’s largest emissions test center is in Oxnard, just up the coast from Los Angeles. Staff technicians at the California Air Resources Board’s lab in El Monte helped uncover Volkswagen’s cheating.

Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in an e-mail that the agency is pursuing the enforcement investigation it started and working with the attorney general.

“We are also cooperating with all other agencies that have authority to pursue violations,” she said. “We haven’t dropped out of anything. But our primary focus is on putting together the facts that are relevant” to California laws and regulations.

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