Volkswagen Lobbied Obama Administration For Green Tax Credits

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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As President Barack Obama pushed his green energy proposals for the auto-industry in 2011, Volkswagen was lobbying the administration for tax credits on its now tainted line of diesel vehicles.

Volkswagen wanted a green tax credit that applies to electric cars to be given to their diesel line as well. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, refused to go along with Volkswagen’s plan and also declined Toyota’s request to apply the same tax credit to their hybrid electric cars.

EPA documents from 2009 and 2010 show that Volkswagen supported the Obama administration’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. Former VW CEO Stefan Jacoby wrote to the EPA in 2010 praising their “leadership on this important subject.” Jacoby, along with the EPA and other auto-makers, said they would “aim to make substantial annual progress in reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption consistent with the Obama Administration’s energy and climate security goals.”

While Volkswagen was publicly backing White House efforts to tackle global warming and push green vehicles, the automaker was quietly lobbying behind the scenes to get government subsidies — the political price for the company’s support of Obama’s agenda. But the EPA refused to play ball, and Volkswagen withdrew its support for Obama’s green vehicle push, according to The New York Times.

Margo Oge, the former director of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality who worked closely with auto-makers on these proposals, told The New York Times that Volkswagen “wanted a special deal for diesel cars that we now know weren’t even meeting the standard.” Oge suggested that Volkswagen thought their diesel technology was superior to electric or hybrid alternatives, saying, “These people had religion, and that religion was diesel.”

When Obama announced his plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars, Volkswagen was one of the only major automakers to not sign a letter of support for the president’s agenda. The New York Times reports that much of this attitude came from overseas.

“My sense was that things were being dictated by Germany,” said Oge.

Without a tax credit or subsidy, Volkswagen was going to have a tougher time meeting regulatory standards on emissions while still being able to advertise their diesel vehicles’ good fuel economy and relatively low price. These reasons might have played a role in Volkswagen using “defeat devices” to get around EPA emissions tests.

Despite Volkswagen’s efforts to get government assistance for their diesel line, their lobbying footprint in America remains relatively small, which could hurt them as this scandal moves forward. Volkswagen spent just $1.2 million on lobbying in 2014, a number dwarfed by General Motors which spends an average of $8.5 million a year on lobbying.

GM just recently settled with the government over the fact that they knowingly hid information about a faulty ignition switch that was linked directly to the deaths of 174 people. They were fined only $900 million and no one at GM was ever charged. Volkswagen currently faces up to $18 billion in potential fines.

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