President Donald Trump has plans to effectively shut down the Environmental Protection Agency’s vehicle and fuel testing lab, the regulatory government responsible for catching Volkswagen in the act of fudging its cars emissions technology for years. On Tuesday, the Washington Post revealed that the administration is considering a $48 million cut in federal funding to the lab, a 99 percent decrease that would also mean a cut of 168 of the agency’s 304 full-time employees.
The cuts, detailed in a budget document published by the Post, would gut an agency that holds automakers accountable and enforces regulations around air quality emissions.
“We know we can effectively serve the taxpayers and protect the environment,” EPA spokesman John Konkus told Reuters. “While many in Washington insist on greater spending, EPA is focused on greater value and real results”
The lab shot to fame in 2015, when it was discovered that Volkswagen had intentionally cheated emissions tests by selling cars that enabled select emissions controls during lab testing conditions. The cars contained software that allowed cars to produce up to 40 times the amount of emissions produced in lab tests.
Five scientists at West Virginia University discovered a discrepancy in May 2014 between EPA tests and their own independently conducted tests. These results were passed onto the agency, which pressured Volkswagen to explain itself.
In September 2015, the agency threw down the gauntlet, issuing an order to recall cars covering the period between 2009 and 2015. Volkswagen ended up paying $25 billion in penalties, and in January federal prosecutors leveled criminal charges against six scientists involved.
It may have been university scientists that discovered the discrepancy, but it was the agency that was able to review data and apply the pressure needed to make Volkswagen act.
Since the incident, Volkswagen has worked to rehabilitate its image, investing heavily in electric technology. The new e-Golf, coming to the country this spring, brings an all-electric underpinning to one of VW’s most iconic designs. It’s hard to imagine how the past two years would have played out if the discrepancy was left unchecked.