Enviros Freak Out After AG Sessions Moves To Stop Future VW Emission Agreements

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Activist groups criticized the Department of Justice Thursday for moving to stop violators of environmental laws from having to pay for projects that are unrelated to the violation.

Environmentalists pushed back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to end the practice known as “third party settlements,” which forced companies that violated the EPA’s Clean Air Act to pay groups and people not associated with the criminal matter.

Restitution funds should go to victims of a crime, “not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power,” Sessions said. The Sierra Club and other activist groups argued that the DOJ’s decision will hurt environmental clean-up efforts.

“This radical reversal of a decades-old policy could deprive communities of direct assistance for improvements in air and water quality, and is nothing more than an effort by the Trump administration to let companies like Fiat-Chrysler and Mercedes off the hook,” Pat Gallagher, director of The Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, said in a press statement shortly after the AG’s move.

Gallagher was referring to ongoing investigations into whether Fiat and Mercedes’ allegedly duped federal regulators about the automakers’ fuel emission levels. EPA believes Fiat affixed so-called “cheat devices” to 104,000 light duty diesel vehicles that were not disclosed to regulators during the certification application process.

Session’s letter is similar to a Republican-backed bill in the House, Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer said.

“It’s disheartening to see the Justice Department reading from their playbook,” he said.

Volkswagen, for its part, pleaded guilty in March to placing cheat devices on more than 500,000 vehicles. VW was sentenced to three years of probation and forced to pay billions of dollars in penalties.

The German automaker agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the U.S. to address the scandal – it also was tasked with recalling and fixing the tainted vehicles. VW was sentenced to three years of probation and forced to pay billions of dollars in penalties.

VW’s settlement over dieselgate included $2.7 billion for projects to reduce pollution in areas where some of the infected vehicles had traveled, as well as $2 billion for various investments in electric vehicle technology.

Payments will be doled out to various plaintiffs, such as the state of New York, which will use $115 million for environmental projects to improve air quality and add another $30 million to the state’s general fund. Sessions’ decision will affect other companies that violated aspects of the Clean Air Act.

Cause of Action Institute, a free-market group, urged the EPA earlier this month to re-open a settlement reached with Harley-Davidson earlier this month over illegal defeat devices. The group opposed the settlement because it required the motorcycle company to pay  $3 million to upgrade wood-burning appliances.

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