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Is GOP Panel Stepping Into Dieselgate Settlement For Supporters?

With a House committee weighing on the Dieselgate scandal and how VW makes its own investments, you have to wonder who the "investigation" is benefiting.
Posted: November 23, 2016 - 9:01AM
Author: Marc Stern

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As soon as the settlement was to become final last month, there were those who sought last-minute changes that would benefit their positions, while leaving Volkswagen to act as a big piggy bank for them. Their views were rejected, and now it looks like they have enlisted the aid of Congress to push the case they believe they have.

That position has been roundly rejected again by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whose enforcement chief told lawmakers that there is “nothing” in the consent decree prohibiting the automaker from “obtaining revenue” from projects that receive portions of the $2 billion earmarked for zero emissions infrastructure.

According to Automotive News, Cynthia Giles told lawmakers that the “ZEV investment requirement will be a business investment made by Volkswagen.” She continued that the automaker could “see a benefit from mandatory ZEV (zero emissions vehicle) investments, and that would not be inconsistent with the [consent decree].” The automaker could have “decided to make these investments without this enforcement case, but now it is required to do so.”
A House Committee has set a Dec. 1 hearing on Dieselgate settlement

Now, following in the style of the many “investigative committees” named in the last few years to sort out various hazy and circumstantial issues that are taken as proven fact, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to weigh in on just how the EPA will oversee VW’s spending plans. This comes as the automaker has publicly announced plans to launch 30 electric vehicles by 2025.

Using Competitors’ Language?

Nearly parroting language laid out by some of VW’s potential competitors in their court filings last month, lawmakers on the panel said their plans call for a review of VW’s possible “unfair competitive edge” in the electric vehicle market. The statement came from the panel’s GOP leadership.

The Dec. 1 hearing is set to review VW’s requirement to spend up to $2.7 billion to mitigate environmental damage caused by increase nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions from the automaker’s turbodiesels.

“For over a year now, the committee has been examining the VW cheating scandal and remains committed to holding VW accountable for its actions, as they represent a fundamental violation of public trust,” Rep. Timothy Murphy, R-PA, chair of the committee’s oversight panel, said in a rather harsh statement. “These provisions aim to remedy the market and environmental impacts of VW’s deceitful actions; however, questions remain in regards to the implementation of these provisions.” As is usually the case with these committees – their record over the past four years is pretty convincing on this -- there are always “questions” being raised. However, they never seem to define the nature of the “questions” and who is raising them. Murphy’s statement seems rather incredible given that he is a representative of the party that is supposed to favor market action over regulation.

Earlier this month, GOP lawmakers have pressed EPA officials for information about the ZEV investments. In a letter responding to the GOP, Giles said the agency’s role in overseeing how VW allocates the $2 billion in ZEV investment is limited. According to terms of the Dieselgate class-action settlement, VW must seek input from states, municipalities, tribes and federal agencies before picking projects for funding. VW must also take two other steps:

  1. Justify the project choices
  2. Obtain EPA approval before making the investments

VW To Comply – EPA

Giles assured lawmakers that her agency and the Justice Department would ensure that “VW complies with the requirements for stakeholder engagement, that the investments VW makes are truly brand neutral and that VW complies with all terms of the settlement.”

She did warn that the agency “does not make the investment decisions – Volkswagen makes the decisions, informed by the input it gets from stakeholders, the changing market conditions and bound by the detailed constraints in the agreement.” She emphasized her agency “will make sure that Volkswagen plays by the rules laid out in the agreement the court approved.”

Source: Automotive News

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