There is a scene from the 2011 Republican presidential debates that remains a defining moment in the party’s nominating process for that election cycle. Texas Governor Rick Perry boldly declared there were three agencies he would abolish as president. “Commerce, Education, and the … what’s the third one there?”
Perry never came up with it, but Mitt Romney was happy to help. “The EPA?” Romney offered.
He was off, but it wasn’t a bad guess, even though the agency was established by President Richard Nixon. Skepticism and mistrust about the EPA are common enough in the halls of Congress that we forget the agency is quite useful when it comes to auto regulations and the public health risks a lack of regulations presents.
In the case of the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, toxic emissions levels and customers being taken for a ride at the pump would be the norm for auto consumers if the EPA hadn’t intervened. Hopefully, we can agree the EPA has a place protecting U.S. citizens’ best interests, though it is unlikely to happen soon.
The latest advance on the agency came just a few months before the VW scandal broke, when Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives proposed cutting the EPA’s funding by $718 million, or 9% lower than the previous fiscal year allocation. At the time, Administrator Gina McCarthy warned what effects cutting the agency’s budget would have on fundamental needs like clean air and water.
Emissions caps that have proven controversial in coal country were at the root of these threatened cuts, but auto consumers will most certainly be left in a lurch if the EPA continues losing money to investigate automakers whose profits have never been higher. Despite being out of place in politics, it’s enough to question the logic of these measures.
Volkswagen’s ability to dupe the EPA for so long is the perfect example.
According to reports on the Dieselgate scandal, Volkswagen had been using the deceptive defeat devices on turbocharged direct injection (TDI) Clean Diesel models since 2009. Since the cars only make up about 1% of the vehicles on U.S. roads, the EPA was content to continue its testing cycles without forcing the automaker to meet its emissions claims on the road.
European regulators had been on to the Volkswagen Group’s test rigging already. While the EPA focused on road tests for much more prevalent (and higher-emitting) diesel trucks, the Volkswagen TDI fleet was given a pass. According to CBS News, representatives for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and West Virginia University were the first to alert the EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) of the offending diesel models.
Armed with the evidence it needed, regulators denied Volkswagen the right to sell 2016 model-year cars with TDI engines. Prior to that hit to its business, the automaker was content to continue with its program, despite some vehicles emitting 40 times the pollutants Volkswagen claimed they would.
Can anyone believe the EPA will get better at beating tech-savvy car makers with less of a budget? Like any government agency, there are bound to be bureaucratic holdups and other issues in operating, but the EPA is one of the few government agencies that has auto consumers on its mind. Throw in the whole clean air and water part and we suggest it’s highly useful to Americans. Let’s keep that in mind when slashing its budget becomes the top priority in Congress soon.
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