By Devin Henry - 01/04/16 01:36 PM EST
The federal government is suing Volkswagen over its use of an illegal device to hide emissions by its diesel vehicles.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a civil suit against the automaker on Monday, alleging the company installed “defeat devices” on 600,000 vehicles in order to skirt required federal emissions rules.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said 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.”
VW has admitted to installing the devices, which detect when an emissions test is underway and turn on pollution controls only when under inspection.
The EPA initially accused the company in September of installing the devices on 482,000 VW vehicles sold since 2008, though the number of affected vehicles has risen since then. The maximum fine for violating emissions rules is $37,000 per vehicle.
“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,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Federal investigations into the scandal and discussions about potential recalls continue, officials said in a statement.
The revelations kicked off congressional inquiries into the company’s pollution standards. The head of Volkswagen's U.S. division apologized to a congressional panel in October, saying, “We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships and employees, as well as the public and regulators."