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Author: Raine    Date: 09/24/2015 13:02:18

In the news amidst everything else happening is the story of an automobile manufacturer that did a bad thing.

Since 2009, Volkswagen had been installing elaborate software in 482,000 "clean diesel" vehicles sold in the US, so that the cars' pollution controls only worked when being tested for emissions. The rest of the time, the vehicles could freely spew hazardous, smog-forming compounds.

Suffice to say, regulators were livid once they caught on. Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Volkswagen had very flagrantly violated the Clean Air Act. Not only did the EPA order the German firm to fix the affected vehicles — which include diesel TDI versions of the Golf, Jetta, Beetle, and Passat — but the agency could end up levying fines as high as $18 billion. The Department of Justice is also contemplating criminal charges.

The scandal has only widened from there. On Tuesday, Volkswagen admitted that some 11 million clean diesel cars sold worldwide contain software to fool regulators, with the vast majority of cars likely to be in Europe.
Instead of meeting the clean air standards required of the US Government, it cheated.

How was this all discovered?
Regulators didn't notice this ruse for years. The problem was only uncovered by an independent group, the International Council on Clean Transportation, which wanted to investigate why there was such a discrepancy between laboratory tests and real-road performance for several of VW's diesel cars in Europe. So they worked with researchers at West Virginia University, who stuck a probe up the exhaust pipe of VW's clean diesel cars and drove them from San Diego to Seattle.

Daniel Carder and his research Team at West Virginia University did it. The were given 50,000 dollars to figure this all out.
Despite the discrepancies, a fix shouldn't involve major changes. "It could be something very small," said Carder, who's the interim director of West Virginia University's Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions in Morgantown, about 200 miles (320 km) west of Washington in the Appalachian foothills.

"It can simply be a change in the fuel injection strategy. What might be realized is a penalty in fuel economy in order to get these systems more active, to lower the emissions levels."

Carder said he's surprised to see such a hullabaloo now, because his team's findings were made public nearly a year and a half ago.
Regarding his role in unearthing the current scandal, Carder said there was no particular sense of excitement when his team confirmed that the higher VW emission results were real and not a consequence of faulty measurements.

"There's no incentive for us to pass or fail," he said. "Obviously, we don't want to see something spewing emissions and polluting the environment. But we really have no horse in the race, as they say."
When Mr. Carder says he has no incentives, he means financial gain. He and his team were given $50,000 dollars to study what an international council queried about. And this is important, we read so much from people on the their side of our political thought process that regulations are bad, free market good (you know the lines) and yet a public university that found this very same problem in heavy diesel manufacturers used almost twenty years ago.
Carder belonged to a 15-member West Virginia University team that pioneered portable emissions testing as part of a 1998 settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and several heavy duty diesel engine makers including Caterpillar Inc and Cummins Engine Co.
The penalty back then? About 83 Million dollars. That's right, million -- since then the price and the urgency regarding climate change has increased. Volkswagen has set aside $7.3 Billion dollars for this cheating scandal, and its CEO has stepped down.

Still, people in our own government want more regulations repealed or eased. And as technology becomes increasingly more common regarding transportation, it will only get more insidious if we further deregulate. Technology is being used as a two way sword.
The VW recall is going to be an even harder sell: Bringing down the cars' emissions will also bring down their performance and their mileage. A Jetta owner who takes her car in to get "fixed" will drive off the service center lot in a slower and thirstier car. Some conscientious owners will bite the bullet and do it; others will be tempted to keep putting off making that appointment.

And that's why emissions regulations are a government mandate, not something left up to individual car owners. A car isn't done when its manufacturer certifies that it meets federal standards; the states also test cars' emissions, in person, one at a time. If your car flunks, you can't register it. The California Air Resources Board is already on the case, so California and other states with strict emissions rules may start refusing to recertify the affected VWs already on the road. Yes, those cars will "pass" emissions tests—but the EPA letter helpfully includes a chart of the VW models and years with software defeat devices. It's easy to imagine a state department of motor vehicles issuing a flat rule that none of these cars will be allowed to take the emissions test without proof that they've been patched.

In hindsight, these sentiments are darkly ironic in the way that great corporate crimes always are. The best way to rob a bank is to own one; the best way to defeat factory-set emissions controls is to own the factory. A panic about individual mom-and-pop garages tampering with a few cars was used to justify laws that helped make it harder to detect the fact that one of the world's largest automakers tampered with 11 million cars. The EPA has already shown that it doesn't know when to look inside of software black boxes. Unless the rest of us are allowed to, who knows what other evil lurks in the hearts of cars?

There are reasons why things are mandated. It's not tyranny or evil big brother government. Some things are about the good of the entire community, in this case: the community of earth.

We cannot keep kicking this can down the road. We also cannot expect the people with the money to be honest either.

I thank Danielle Carder and his team at WVU for their work. They had no incentive to do the right thing and find the truth. Sometimes science and education really makes a bigger difference than the almighty dollar.



25 comments (Latest Comment: 09/24/2015 19:50:21 by Mondobubba)
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