U.S. House slams regulators for not catching VW for years

Thu Oct 8, 2015 7:52pm EDT
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By David Morgan and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG's (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) U.S. chief executive blamed "individuals" for using software to cheat on diesel emissions at a House hearing on Thursday as lawmakers attacked federal environmental regulators for failing to catch the fraud for years.

Michael Horn, head of Volkswagen Americas, testified before a House of Representatives oversight and investigations panel about the emissions scandal that has chopped more than a third of the company's market value and sent tremors through the global auto industry.

Volkswagen's use of defeat devices, software that evaded U.S. tests for emissions harmful to human health, was not a corporate decision, but something a few employees engineered, Horn said under oath.

"This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason," Horn said about the software code inserted into diesel cars since 2009. Volkswagen used different defeat devices in Europe and the United States, Horn said, as emissions standards are different in the two regions.

"Some people have made the wrong decisions in order to get away with something," Horn said when asked by lawmakers if Volkswagen cheated with defeat devices because it was cheaper than using special injection systems to cut emissions.

Lawmakers slammed an Environmental Protection Agency official who testified after Horn for not catching Volkswagen. Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, questioned the size of EPA's annual budget, noting that the cheating was uncovered by a West Virginia University study that had a budget of less than $70,000.

"I'm not going to blame our budget for the fact that we missed this cheating," replied the EPA's Christopher Grundler, who said his transportation and air quality office has an annual budget of roughly $100 million. "I do think we do a very good job of setting priorities."

Burgess replied: "With all due respect, just looking at the situation, I think the American people ought to ask that we fire you and hire West Virginia University to do our work."   Continued...

Volkswagen North America CEO Michael Horn faces a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing investigating the company's admission it cheated U.S. emissions tests, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts