Dems push to fine auto emissions violators after VW scandal

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In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing to give regulators the power to fine automakers that violate federal air quality standards.

The proposal would allow the Department of Transportation to penalize auto companies that violate emission requirements in the Clean Air Act. It is contained in a measure that is being filed by Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyFCC approves new privacy rules for 'sensitive' internet data Senate Dems target Wells Fargo auditor Senate Dems want major women's golf event moved off Trump course MORE (D-Mass.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalCalifornia National Guard official: Congress knew about bonus repayments Dems demand anti-LGBT language be taken out of defense bill Senate Dems want major women's golf event moved off Trump course MORE (D-Conn.) and Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.). 

The measure, known as the Compensating Losses to the Environment from Automobiles with Noxious Undisclosed Pollution (CLEAN-UP) Act, would block companies that cheat on auto emission standards from receiving the fuel efficiency credits that are being offered by the federal government as part of a mandate that cars achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. 

The Democrats said the move would ensure auto companies are held accountable for their compliance with federal emissions rules.  

"It’s a simple principle: polluters should pay for and should never be allowed to profit from the pollution they produce,” Markey said in a statement. 

“The CLEAN-UP Act will ensure that automakers don’t enjoy any CAFE benefits they were awarded as a result of illegal behavior," he continued. "This legislation will protect Americans from automakers that try to cheat emissions rules while also protecting the air we breathe from pollution." 

"We must hold automakers and any other company accountable for violating environmental laws,” Rush added.

Volkswagen has admitted to selling diesel models of its cars that had software installed that violated the Clean Air Act by activating required air pollution protections only during emissions tests. 

The Environmental Protection Agency have accused the German automaker of installing "defeat devices" on about 482,000 diesel vehicles since 2008. The company has recently been found to have installed the devices on cars marketed under its Audi and Porsche brands.  

Volkswagen programmed vehicles to trick emissions testers into believing its diesel cars released a much lower volume of nitrogen oxide than they actually do. In regular driving, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times more pollution.

The company has offered a "sincere apology" to drivers, but the Democrats said increased penalties are necessary. 

"Volkswagen deliberately and illegally deceived millions of loyal customers — claiming their cars were environmentally friendly while cheating emissions tests and polluting the air we breathe," Blumenthal said in a statement.

"We must hold Volkswagen accountable for its inexcusable actions, and do everything we can to prevent any other company from doing this in the future. This commonsense legislation will ensure companies cannot reap the rewards of corporate average fuel economy credits as a result of their illegal behavior.”

“The American people deserve to know that there will be serious penalties for corporate polluters who cheat the system, harm our environment, and lie to the public,” Pallone added.