Both Volkswagen and the EPA have regulatory woes.

So, the Volkswagen scandal, in a nutshell: the company rigged its diesel cars sold in America to produce one set of nitrogen oxide emissions when tested, and another set everywhere else.  This allowed them to get past the EPA’s emissions tests for years; the EPA is currently freaking out, and trying to work out how to retroactively road-test all the diesel Volkswagen cars currently on the road in the USA right now (something like half a million of them). It is, as they say, quite the scandal.

Let me get this out of the way: bad Volkswagen! Bad! No biscuit! …Also: as The Week noted, it was highly inappropriate for Volkswagen to tout itself as being ‘green’ (and accept federal subsidies accordingly) via the use of this dodge. That is, in fact, a highly legitimate issue. Alas for the EPA, the Week went on to note this:

The EPA slashed allowable nitrogen dioxide car emissions from the already low 1.2 grams per mile average to 0.07 grams per mile in 2008 to boost air quality that courts at the time ruled was already pretty good and adequately protecting public health. The EPA is now poised to tighten that standard another 30 percent.

The problem for carmakers is that they can’t simultaneously satisfy such regulatory edicts and consumer demand.

(Via Instapundit) You see, it’s great to pass laws. It’s absolutely wonderful to pass laws, in fact.  And it can be ever so much fun to pass laws that never consider the possibility that people would try to evade those laws.  In this particular case, the EPA told Volkswagen that emissions had to be at a certain level, and then assumed that Volkswagen would self-regulate its behavior. Well, Volkswagen did not do that. A lot of people are confused as to why, which seems silly: they did it because Volkswagen figured that they could get away with it; and if they got, say, enough cars on the roads in the United States in the process then they might even get away with it even if they got caught.

In this particular case, Volkswagen will probably not get away with it – too few cars affected, and the EPA is still sixteen months away from being smacked in the face with a rolled-up newspaper – but the general problem about government regulations, and the ways to break / evade / pervert / defy them, remains.  To wit: the more regulations, the more incentives there are to evade them.  You can argue the point up and down and pound the table all you like*, but human nature is human nature. People will smuggle items and not pay excise taxes on them; they will buy booze even if you make it illegal to sell it; and they will evade nit-picking pollution controls widely believed to be social engineering exercises in disguise if they think that nobody’s looking. Sorry if that bothers people, but I wasn’t involved in the design process for the human psyche.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: The EPA is apparently going to have to go out and do more emissions testing on their own. How are they going to pay for that? …Well, that’s an interesting question. One that the EPA would be quite keen to hear the answer to, themselves.

*Many of the people upset about this seem to be suffering from the charming, if distressingly naive, delusion that the American populace gives a hoot about nitrogen oxide emissions. Or that said populace be infuriated with Volkswagen over this forever, or this time next week, or even that they’re infuriated right now.



7 thoughts on “Both Volkswagen and the EPA have regulatory woes.”

  1. I’ve a friend who is concerned about the implications of all the engineers who had to have known, and didn’t blow the whistle.
    I pointed out that engineering school isn’t magically able to instill character, and that engineers are not necessarily going to be out of step with their peers when it comes to honesty. (Yes, ‘being incompetent or crooked will kill people’ is a strong motivator. It is not a perfect one.) If a society is filled with falsehoods, one would expect that society’s engineers to be more willing to commit fraud.
    In this case, EPA guidelines might give the impression of only having a tenuous connection to human welfare. I think human welfare is the only legitimate end for engineering when it comes to environmental questions.
    So I kind of see it as a variation of ‘we will pretend to work, and they will pretend to pay us’.
    There are people I’d cheerfully punish for this. If a man murdered someone who needed killing, someone who I dearly wanted dead, I would still hang the murderer. (I am being both literal and legalistic in the latter statement. Well, I’m open to different means of execution.)
    As for emotions, I dislike VW for being the intersection of hippies and Hitler. This doesn’t matter. As for nitrogen oxide levels and pollution, I’d be more concerned about the beans I had earlier today. (LA simply has too many people. I’m not aware of anywhere else in America that has had a real problem with automobile pollution in my lifetime. But maybe I /was/ born yesterday.)

    1. “delusion that the American populace gives a hoot about nitrogen oxide emissions.”

      Yeah. I care about NOx emissions…some. OTOH, as long as Beijing’s skyline looks like it does, I’m not too worried about VWs having emissions as high as…*does some calculations*…a hair higher than the previous limit, if I did that right.

  2. If I had the money, I’d have run out to buy one of these vehicles the moment the news broke.
    Bully for them!

  3. Two things… one long, one short.
    Chicagoland requires emissions testing, I’ve been taking my cars there since the program first rolled out. Used to be, when I was driving old clunkers, that you’d roll up, a tech’d drive your clunker onto a dynamometer, stick a probe up the tailpipe, accelerate to .. I think 40 .. and take readings of what came out the back.
    Newer cars, though .. the federally mandated computer manages and logs all that, so .. the dynamometers have mostly been junked. (most locations have one left .. for “classic cars” that do, in some cases, still need to pass)
    So .. seems obvious that, in Chicago, the EPA will simply instruct the State to begin varying the test methodology – X% go on the dyno, and the agency’s liable if they skip off and hit something.
    No idea if the east coast or Cali ever went in for this kind of thing, or whether they still have the hardware around. It does seem, though, that making it into a local problem is the most likely solution.
    Second thing .. Volkswagen is actually Volkswagen-Porsche-Audi .. and how do we know they didn’t mention this to their friends over at Daimler (a.k.a. Mercedes) or their other buddies at BMW .. or their *other* buddies .. Lamborghini for instance .. or any of their former Chrysler employees …

    1. Cali also requires admissions testing, every other year. I expect that equipment to test older cars must be around; cars last longer where they don’t salt the roads in winter.

  4. “…sixteen months away from being smacked in the face with a rolled-up newspaper…”

    I would hope that would be a rolled-up subpoena. Or several.

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