The European Commission was apparently warned by its own in-house researchers that vehicle emissions tests had revealed what those involved suspected to be a “defeat device” (like the one VW was recently found to be using in many of its vehicles) … a full 5 years before the VW diesel emissions cheating scandal hit the news, according to recent reports.
Apparently, the European Commission did nothing about these assertions (and others as well), leaving it to US agencies to bring the issue to the fore, years later. So how does one interpret this? Simple incompetence? Simple corruption?
The news was detailed in a piece that The Guardian recently published, but the news originates with a documents cache obtained by the Dutch environmental magazines Down to Earth and OneWorld.
To be more specific on dates here, documents amongst the uncovered cache reveal that the European Commission’s in-house researchers uncovered the suspected defeat device all the way back in 2010 — and promptly warned the commission.
This news stands in direct contrast to recent comments made by high-ranking EU officials. The director of the EU’s enterprise department went as far as to claim that the Joint Research Centre (JRC) had “failed in previous reports to flag up the risk of such defeat devices” — when, in fact, it had done exactly that, 5 years previous even.
Here are the exact words used by the researchers in their report on the matter: “One vehicle tested showed extremely high NOx emissions during the low temperature type 6 test. Since NOx emissions at low temperature are currently not regulated, this observation hints towards a very peculiar combustion strategy (defeat strategy?) the manufacturer applies at low temperature.”
That’s not exactly ambiguous wording, is it? I wonder how the director of the EU’s enterprise department could have interpreted that as a “failure to flag the risk.”
The researchers noted that the device became active right after the “light off” of the catalytic converters and involved an “artificially lean combustion strategy reducing HC/CO (high hydrocarbon/CO2 output) but increasing NOx emissions.”
There’s no denying the intent behind such an approach. Interpreting it as anything other than fraud would be dishonest. So why was the report swept under the rug and ignored?
The Guardian coverage notes that “JRC scientists told the European parliament’s ‘dieselgate’ inquiry that they were never given a mandate to investigate the defeat devices issue further.”
The chair of the dieselgate inquiry, Kathleen van Brempt, made a blunt comment on the matter when questioned about it: “These documents show that there has been an astonishing collective blindness to the defeat device issue in the European commission, as well as in other EU institutions.”
The inquiry’s coordinator, Seb Dance, did so as well, noting that the documents “completely contradict everything the commission has told us up to now about their having had no evidence of defeat strategies being used by car manufacturers.”
Amusingly, the director of the EU’s enterprise department noted back in April that, despite an awareness that real-world NOx emissions were far higher than shown in test conditions, the commission “did not see there was cheating going on.”
It should be reiterated here that VW has not yet faced any real legal issues in Europe, despite the revelations so far — for the time being, the US is the driving force behind the attempt to make VW accountable for its actions.
Amongst the newly released documents, was a letter from the Dutch environment minister (the current chair of the dieselgate inquiry) to the European Union’s industry commissioner back in September 2015, discussing possible recalls: “We would like you to consider the possibilities of a European recall … to ensure that all faulty software is removed from the market and replaced by proper software that allows proper emissions reduction.”
Going on: “The commission should have alerted the member states’ national supervisor. Although it is not obliged, those states could have taken cars off the road, tested them and enforced the legislation.”
The Guardian quoted a European Commission spokesperson as saying that the bloc had been aware of the risk of defeat devices in 2014, but “was not aware of any actual instances of fraud. We were just as shocked as everyone about the revelations of the Volkswagen emissions manipulation.”
And another EU source was quoted as well … one that was seemingly more forthright: “The commission’s position in this has been one of trying to avoid any responsibility. Legally, the responsibility for enforcement of the legislation rests with member states. Whether the commission did enough to alert those states and ensure that they were carrying out their responsibilities is a very pertinent question.”
The timing of this news release is, of course, quite interesting in itself. Especially when considering that the release seems to have originated with organizations in the Netherlands. The UK’s referendum on European Union membership is today, June 23.
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