In Montana, we know the damage that corrupt companies can do to our environment and health. Over the years we’ve inherited eyesores on our beautiful landscapes, and hazardous materials contaminating our water and air. Montanans stand up, again and again, against corporations that prioritize the wealth of a few executives over the health and safety of the rest of us. Unfortunately, it’s time to do it again. Volkswagen (VW), a company that marketed its vehicles as environmentally conscious, spent years deceiving US regulators and consumers by cheating on essential emissions tests and blatantly breaking the law across the world. As a legislator, I’ve devoted many hours and introduced a number of bills to ensure all Montanans have the necessary consumer protections in place to make smart and educated purchases. VW’s actions fly directly in the face of the transparency and ethical behavior that Montanans demand, and we must take action so companies like VW can no longer cheat and deceive consumers.
In 2006 VW learned that their diesel vehicles couldn’t pass basic US emissions standards. Rather than fix the problem, the company created a “defeat device” to help cars perceive when they were undergoing emissions tests, which would in turn place the vehicle into an environmentally friendly mode. The rest of the time, VW vehicles were spewing out up 40 times the legal limit of nitrous oxide, a poisonous greenhouse gas, into the air. These “defeat devices” were installed in 600,000 US cars — and more than 10 million worldwide. After almost a decade of cheating regulators and consumers, VW has racked up a tab of $30 billion in fines and restitution for their fraudulent behavior.
Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal first made headlines in 2015, but the issue is still relevant today. It is clear that this company disrespects the laws of our country and each and every one of their customers. Just last month, the regulator in their home country of Germany demanded a recall of tens of thousands more cars for employing defeat devices. Even after paying $30 billion in penalties, they’re still cheating, and still getting caught. One of their subsidiaries was involved in a bribery scandal after allegedly demanding kickbacks from their Egyptian distributor, and they’ve been fined for being part of an illegal cartel.
After Volkswagen was caught, the CEO of Volkswagen Group of America testified before Congress and claimed that Volkswagen knew what it had done was wrong, would take steps to make it right, and would make sure that nothing like it ever happened again. But VW’s recent list of wrongdoings clearly shows that they have not learned their lesson. If Volkswagen wants to regain the trust of American consumers, including those of us here in Montana, they need to demonstrate that they have reformed their corrupt corporate culture. They need to stop engaging in illegal and unethical behavior all around the world.