The Latest: Lawmakers press EPA on its response to VW case

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Posted: Oct 08, 2015 3:20 PM
The Latest: Lawmakers press EPA on its response to VW case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest on the congressional hearing on Volkswagen's emissions-rigging (all times local):

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3:06 p.m.

Members of a House subcommittee are grilling two Environmental Protection Agency officials about why they're allowing diesel-powered Volkswagens to stay on the road when they are spewing out more pollution than allowed by law.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., asked what authority the EPA has to leave the cars on the road when they're emitting 10 to 40 times the pollution allowed by law.

EPA Director of Transportation and Air Quality Christopher Grundler says the agency will look for ways to make VW mitigate the environmental damage.

EPA Air Enforcement Director Phillip Brooks says the agency can't take the pollution out of the air, but in the past it has required offenders to reduce pollution in the future.

The officials say it's likely that VW will face significant fines and possible criminal charges against the company due to the cheating.

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2:53 p.m.

A top official says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pressing Volkswagen for fixes on its emissions-cheating diesel engines and hopes to see solutions as early as next week.

EPA Director of Transportation and Air Quality Christopher Grundler says he has told VW to present more than one fix. He says the EPA will look at the impact on car owners before approving anything.

In testimony before a House subcommittee Thursday, Grundler says he wishes the EPA would have caught VW sooner. He says the agency has changed testing procedures so they are unpredictable to automakers.

Grundler says the EPA won't go after individual car owners, but it is investigating Volkswagen's conduct.

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2:30 p.m.

A Virginia congressman thinks neighboring West Virginia University should benefit from its discovery of Volkswagen's emissions-rigging scandal.

Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith said the university should receive part of any settlement or fine imposed on VW by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The university and the nonprofit pollution control advocate International Council on Clean Transportation reported last year that VW cars had significantly higher emissions than allowed by the EPA. The council and WVU reported their findings to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board in May 2014, but VW blamed the problem on technical issues and unexpected conditions. The automaker finally admitted last month it was using a so-called "defeat device" to bypass EPA emission standards for clean air.

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12:15 p.m.

Of the several members of Congress who recounted love affairs with their trusty VWs during the hearing, Rep. Morgan Griffith may be the one most directly harmed by the company's emissions cheat.

The Virginia Republican recounts that when his mother could afford her first new car, she bought a Volkswagen Squareback with a manual transmission, the car on which he learned to drive. He inherited his grandmother's 1972 Super Beetle, which he still has. In the 1980s, he says he bought a Rabbit, and in the 1990s he bought a gas-powered Jetta.

"When it got close to 200,000 miles, my mother convinced me that even Volkswagens couldn't go on forever," the congressman says.

So he sold the Jetta and bought a 2003 gasoline-powered Passat, which he drove until this summer and racked up 376,225 miles.

Griffith then bought a 2012 diesel Passat, one of the cars caught up in the scandal.

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11:47 a.m.

Volkswagen is looking at compensating owners of diesel-powered cars that have devices set up to cheat on U.S. emissions tests.

U.S. CEO Michael Horn tells lawmakers that the company may pay customers for a loss in resale values because of the scandal.

He says the company doesn't know how much the cheating will cost Volkswagen. The cost depends on fines from government agencies, how much it costs to fix the cars and the price tag for any compensation to customers.

VW has set aside $7.3 billion to pay for the scandal, but Horn says he's not sure that will be enough.

Under questioning from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Horn says the company isn't considering loaner cars because the U.S. government says the cheating diesels are safe to drive.

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11:20 a.m.

Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn denies that top corporate officials, either in Germany or the U.S., knew about the software on the company's diesel cars designed to cheat on emissions test.

Horn says there was no discussion or decision by the company's board to install the defeat devices software.

"To my understanding this was not a corporate decision, this was something individuals did," Horn said.

He says "a couple" software developers in Germany were responsible for the cheat.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, asked Horn if he really believed that senior level corporate managers had no knowledge of the software, which was first installed on cars for the 2009 model year.

"I agree it's very hard to believe," Horn said.

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11:11 a.m.

Volkswagen says most of the 500,000 U.S. cars with diesel engines that cheat on emissions tests will need complex hardware and software fixes that will take several years.

U.S. CEO Michael Horn is telling a U.S. House subcommittee that the cars will still get the window sticker fuel mileage when they are repaired. But the fixes might affect performance, including a one-or-two mile-per-hour drop in top speed.

Horn says software changes alone will work for newer models, but 430,000 cars dating to 2009 will need mechanical fixes that are still being developed.

Horn says software will repair about 90,000 newer Passat models, but they may need an additional sensor.

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10:43 a.m.

Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn is apologizing to lawmakers investigating his company's emissions cheat.

"On behalf of our company, and my colleagues in Germany, I would like to offer a sincere apology for Volkswagen's use of a software program that serves to defeat the regular emissions testing regime."

Horn says he first learned VW's diesel cars had problems with dirty emissions in 2014, but says he was not told about the cheating software until the day before the scheme was revealed to U.S. regulators last month.

Horn, a German who has worked at VW 25 years, says he did not think something like that would be possible at his company.

"These events are deeply troubling," he says.

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10:34 a.m.

Lawmakers pressing Volkswagen's top executive on an emissions cheating scandal are fondly recalling owning vintage VW Beetles early in their lives.

Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Tim Murphy, R-Pa., spoke about their cars with affection.

Murphy says he owned a Beetle in the 1970s and was able to take it apart and put it back together.

DeGette says her first car was a 1960 Beetle with a fabric sunroof that she inherited from her grandmother. She says she still misses the car and that it didn't need computer software to run.

Lawmakers are holding the hearing to investigate Volkswagen software that allowed its four-cylinder diesel engines to cheat on federal and California emissions tests.

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10:16 a.m.

Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan wants Volkswagen's top executive to answer what he calls the most famous question in Congress: "What did you know and when did you know it?"

Upton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He says he has host of other questions, including why one of the world's largest automakers go to such lengths to avoid emissions requirements? Who was responsible for these decisions? How will VW fix the flaw and when? Will the fix affect vehicle performance?

Upton says unraveling these questions will take time, but Volkswagen has a long way to go in rebuilding the public's trust.

"VW will inevitably pay a steep price for its dirty little secret," Upton says.

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9:15 a.m.

It's early and the line is growing. By 8 a.m. — two hours before the start of the House hearing — a crowd already is waiting to get into the room where Volkswagen's top U.S. executive awaits tough question from lawmakers in the aftermath of the emissions-rigging scandal that's hit the world's largest automaker.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is set to hear from Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lawmakers are investigating after Volkswagen admitted it installed on-board computer software designed to cheat on government emissions tests in nearly 500,000 of its four-cylinder "clean diesel" cars, starting with the 2009 model year.

According to an advance copy of Horn's prepared remarks, VW plans to withdraw applications seeking U.S. emissions certifications for its 2016 model Jettas, Golfs, Passats and Beetles with diesel engines. That's raising questions about whether a "defeat device" similar to that in earlier models is also in the new cars.