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Busted! VW faces $18 billion in fines for cheating on emissions tests

Volkswagen may be forced to recall some 482,000 vehicles by the Obama Administration, not because of faulty components, but for intentionally installing software to fool emissions tests.

The New York Times reports that diesel-powered Jettas, Beetles, and Golfs sold in the U.S. from 2009 to 2015 — as well as the 2014-2015 Passat and 2009-2015 Audi A3 — were fitted with a “defeat device” designed to detect when the car is in the midst of an official emissions test. When an evaluation begins, the vehicle reportedly activates full emissions control, presenting a cleaner, greener footprint than the one it leaves behind in normal conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency issued VW a notice of violation in response, adding that these vehicles pollute far more day-to-day than the manufacturer would have you believe.

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, E.P.A. is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. E.P.A. will continue to investigate these very serious violations.”

The global automaker now faces up to $18 billion in penalties for its trouble.

Related: Total recall, yet again — Volkswagen and Mazda recall over 600,000 vehicles

More specifically, the defeat device in question hid the car’s discharge of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that can lead to increases in ozone, smog, and even acid rain. Prolonged inhalation of the compound can lead to a wide variety of respiratory issues, the most common of which are asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. The E.P.A, the Department of Justice, and the state of California will continue to investigate the allegations, much to the delight of environmental advocacy groups like Clean Air Watch.

“They want to make it clear that they’re going to crack down on cheaters,” Frank O’Donnell, President of Clean Air Watch said of the recall. “They’re cheating not only car buyers but the breathing public. They want to lay down the law, enforce the law, and show they’re not going to tolerate cheaters. The laws and regulation are only as good as the enforcement.”