EPA steps up emissions testing after Volkswagen scandal

EPA steps up emissions testing after Volkswagen scandal
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is stepping up its emissions testing for diesel cars in an attempt to root out companies that cheat the tests.

The agency, working with officials in California’s air pollution agency and Canada, plans to test every model of diesel car on the road to see if other automakers programmed their cars to skirt the tests like the Volkswagen Group did.

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“We’re putting vehicle manufacturers on notice that our testing is now going to include additional evaluation and tests designed to look for potential defeat devices,” Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s transportation office, told reporters Friday.

“We aren’t going to tell them what these tests are. They don’t need to know,” he said. “They only need to know we will be keeping their vehicles a little bit longer and we’re going to be driving them a little bit more.”

The new procedure comes a week after the EPA announced that Volkswagen had programmed many of its diesel cars sold since 2009 to figure out when they were undergoing EPA tests and change their pollution output to comply with the tests.

In real-world driving, the cars emit up to 40-times more nitrogen oxide than allowed under the Clean Air Act.

Officials with the different agencies hope their tests can find any emissions problems that were not revealed in the testing that all new cars undergo, which is very standardized and does not usually involve on-road driving.

“We must continue to improve and adapt our oversight, and we will,” said Janet McCabe, acting head of the EPA’s air pollution office.

The emissions issue, to which Volkswagen has admitted, has quickly evolved into an international scandal, with government officials in Europe, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere taking action.

Domestically, the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation, and a House committee will soon hold a hearing on the scandal.

Volkswagen’s chief executive officer resigned this week, and the head of its United States operations is expected to resign as well.

The EPA initially identified the problem in less than 500,000 cars with Volkswagen and Audi branding. But the company later said it extended to 11 million cars worldwide, although the issue only applies to United States emissions standards.

The EPA has 23 devices for testing on-road driving emissions, but Grundler said those have usually been dedicated to heavy-duty truck use.

Grundler and McCabe repeatedly declined to outline the new test procedures, saying they do not want automakers to try to defeat them.

“The smart engineers at EPA, California Air Resources Board and Environment Canada have come up with clever ways to do this,” Grundler said.

The announcement does not change the standard testing that applies to new vehicles. Instead, the EPA is using its authority to test cars currently in operation, including those from rental car fleets and individual consumers.

The new tests started Friday, Grundler said, declining to say how long it would take to test all diesel car models.