A U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether Volkswagen AG should face criminal charges for cheating on emissions tests highlights what some lawmakers say is a long-standing gap in U.S. environmental law, says the Wall Street Journal. Despite the scale of Volkswagen's behavior—it has admitted using test-evading software in up to 11 million cars–the German auto maker may not face an environmental crime charge here, experts say. If the Justice Department does pursue a criminal case, it would be the first-ever against an auto maker for skirting emissions standards.
Car companies, helped by industry-friendly lawmakers, won an exemption from criminal penalties in the 1970 Clean Air Act. Prosecutors are considering alternative approaches, such as charging Volkswagen with lying to regulators. German prosecutors are investigating former and current VW executives for fraud in connection with the emissions scandal. U.S. lawmakers and activists hope the Volkswagen probe will lead to changes to the law, including criminal penalties for emissions violations. “The loophole should be closed so there is a specific penalty for auto manufacturers,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “We will be introducing legislation to close the loophole.” Blumenthal and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have called on the Justice Department to criminally charge Volkswagen for making what the senators say are false statements to the government.