The White House’s proposed EPA budget cuts nearly all of the Agency’s funding for vehicle emissions testing, as reported by Reuters. The proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget would remove 99 percent of the agency’s $48 million in funding for vehicle testing, expecting automakers to pay increased fees to make up the difference. But according to Margo Oge, former head of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the proposed budget would require “pretty much shutting down the testing lab.”
We have a recent example of why this is a very bad idea. In 2015, it was discovered that Volkswagen had been cheating on emissions tests in the US and Europe for years, installing cheat devices on their diesel cars to emit up to 40 times the allowable amount of some toxic pollutants. The scandal came to be known as “Dieselgate,” and a recent MIT study found that VW’s emissions cheating would likely result in 1,200 premature deaths in Europe alone. This deceit was uncovered by a small lab in West Virginia and the data was turned over to the EPA and CARB for enforcement. Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi have also been implicated in similar emissions cheating schemes, and Daimler is currently under scrutiny.
The EPA often uses independent labs for testing, rather than putting a “fox in charge of the henhouse” and trusting automakers to do testing on their own. It seems that these budget cuts may change that. While this doesn’t necessarily mean all testing would be shut down, independent labs would become less independent if their sources of funding come directly from automakers.
And other automakers have also been found making misleading claims about mileage on their vehicles in recent years. These cases have resulted in lawsuits, class actions and settlements in the amounts of hundreds of millions of dollars. Penalties levied on automakers include $90 million on GM, $170 million on Honda and $350 million on Hyundai and Kia.
So considering the hundreds of millions of dollars which automakers have unfairly grifted from their customers by lying about emissions and mileage, the $48 million cost of the EPA’s vehicle testing lab doesn’t seem too high from a pure arithmetic point of view. And then, of course, there’s the $14.7 billion VW Dieselgate settlement and $4.3 billion of civil and criminal penalties, which combined could fund the EPA’s vehicle testing lab for 395 years.
There are likely even more penalties to come from that scandal, and from other automakers being investigated for similar cheating schemes.
Interestingly, this move is opposed even by the automakers themselves. A spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) stated that the cuts in the EPA’s vehicle testing budget could delay certification of new vehicle models and thus result in delays for consumers. The AAM is the same group who lobbied the EPA to loosen efficiency standards and tried to block Tesla dealerships in several states.
This budget plan is only a draft, a more detailed plan will come in May. But this is another example of attempts to gut the EPA in a way that will only harm consumers, the environment, and even the auto manufacturers themselves. Luckily, we still have CARB.