United States Authorities on Monday filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen (VW), accusing the German automaker for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act by installing illegal devices to impair emission control systems in nearly 600,000 diesel cars.
The allegations against Volkswagen, along with its Audi and Porsche units, carry penalties that could cost the German car maker over $90 billion.
The Justice Department lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, accuses Volkswagen of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act, including tampering with the emissions control system and failing to report violations.
“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden in a statement.
“The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.
“We’re alleging that they knew what they were doing, they intentionally violated the law and that the consequences were significant to health,” a senior Justice Department official said.
The EPA issued a statement saying the suit will hold Volkswagen accountable while it tries to reach a deal with the automaker on how to resolve the issue with recalls.
However, EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles says the talks are not going well so far.
“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” she said in a statement.
The suit is the latest legal salvo against Volkswagen, which acknowledged in September that some of its light-duty diesel vehicles had been equipped with software that thwarted emissions-control tests. The software allowed the engines to burn more cleanly when the vehicles’ computers detected that an emissions test was underway.
The lawsuit alleges that the defeat devices allowed Volkswagen models to emit far higher levels of nitrogen oxide than the law allows, violating the Clean Air Act and resulting in “harmful air pollution” in the United States, adding that, the additional action was warranted because the car company still had not responded adequately to fix the problem.
There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from Volkswagen. Company officials have acknowledged that “misconduct” occurred, and have earmarked more than $7 billion for making repairs to affected automobiles.
Though the company had earlier promised that it would continue to work cooperatively with the EPA on developing remedies to bring the affected vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible.