MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont’s top lawyer is not backing down from auto giant Volkswagen.
It was a massive advertising campaign. Print, online and TV ads pushing Volkswagen and Audi’s new “clean diesel” vehicles.
“Fraudulent, untrue, misleading statements,” said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
Sorrell has harsh words for the automaker, accusing the manufacturer of duping customers and regulators by producing diesel cars that were falsely marketed as environmentally friendly.
“This was not a whoops situation. This was intentional fraud on a massive scale,” said Sorrell.
He says the fraud spanned eight years. Now, the AG is suing Volkswagen and its affiliates in state court for leasing and selling vehicles fitted with so-called defeat devices– software that allegedly hid the release of a harmful pollutant called nitrogen oxide or NOx. Sorrell alleges these TDI models have been spewing 40 times the levels of NOx allowed under state and national standards.
“We think about Vermont and our clean air. It’s part of what makes Vermont special,” said Deb Markowitz, Vermont Natural Resources secretary.
Vermont and New Jersey are the only states suing the automaker for violations to both their consumer protection and environmental statutes.
So what does this mean for the 3,400 Vermonters who drive these cars?
“Vermonters want to make green choices. We just need to make sure that when they’re making that green choice that they’re getting what they paid for,” said Markowitz.
Vermont rejected a proposed settlement from VW that would have paid out $1,000 per vehicle. The AG calls that offer inadequate.
In the latest lawsuit, the state is seeking civil penalties, injunction relief, restitution and other fees. The AG did not say how much money Vermont wants.
“We look forward to our day in court and to prove their liability, proved how we’ve been harmed in the state and see that justice is done,” said Sorrell.
This state lawsuit is separate from the federal class-action suit that keeps 2015s sitting idle on the lot. The South Burlington dealership can’t sell them until the case is settled.
Volkswagen has reached proposed settlements with the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission and current vehicle owners and lessees. If the judge accepts the deal, VW has agreed to buy back the cars, terminate leases early or modify these diesel models to improve emissions. Cash will be thrown in to sweeten the deal.
The judge is scheduled to make a decision about the class-action settlement by Oct. 18.
Sorrell says on a per capita basis, Vermont bought more of these cars than any state other than Oregon.