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Dear Attorney General Harris and Governor Brown,

Last month, we finally learned the truth from Volkswagen. “Our company was dishonest with the EPA, and the California Air Resources Board and with all of you. We have totally screwed up.”

Volkswagen acted with deliberate fraud and unequivocal intent to poison our air. For the last 15 months they insisted that tests on its light weight diesel cars showing a spike in pollution levels were not the cause of their fraudulence, but instead due to errors in testing conditions. Volkswagen first admitted to breaking emissions laws and recalled 500,000 vehicles in the US. In a matter of days, this number increased to 11-million vehicles spewing dangerously harmful levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx), emissions that have been linked to ozone (smog) and acid rain, identified worldwide.  The levels of NOx emissions emitted from these vehicles is an astounding 10-40 times above the legal limit, an approximation that is both unbelievable and troubling. Volkswagen has said to have put aside $7.3 billion to right their wrongs and retrofit their counterfeit cars.

Governor Brown and Attorney General Harris, compliance with our environmental regulations ensure we reach our environmental goals. Cheating them sets us back on our goal to reduce NOx by 86,000 tons by 2020, and harms the health of all Californians. This is why we must ensure that Volkswagen recompense the communities most impacted by their pollution. In the spirit of finding solutions to pollution for all Californians, please take the steps necessary to address this grave transgression against California’s environment and the health of our residents, beginning by focusing on what we know to be true about the impact of this situation.

What we know to be true:

  • Volkswagen, previously the world’s largest automaker by sales, deliberately broke federal law, the Clean Air Act (CAA), by installing defeat devices in their vehicles from 2009-2015 in order to avoid emissions regulations, and release into the market vehicles that emitted NOx by a factor 10-40 times the allowed levels.
  • NOx are a family of highly reactive gases that play a major role in the atmospheric reactions with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that produce smog on hot summer days. NOx is a critically dangerous source of air pollution.
  • Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. Breathing ozone can also worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Children are at greatest risk of experiencing negative health impacts from exposure to ozone.
  • Five of the smoggiest cities in California also have the highest densities of people of color and low-income residents. These communities are projected to suffer from the largest increase in smog associated with climate change.
  • Communities of color in California experience higher rates of cancer from toxic air contaminants and higher average levels of nitrate contamination in their drinking water.
  • Communities of color are also more exposed to heat island index, where increased heat created by a lack of tree cover in an urban area exacerbated by an abundance of dark-colored materials used to construct roads and buildings.
  • Those affected by higher levels of pollution are affected now. This problem is not one that we will face in the future. It hurts our communities today.
  • Everyone should benefit from solutions to pollution, and those most impacted should receive equitable resources to address their more vulnerable position.

California has shown a commitment to environmental justice including finding creative ways to assure all forms of penalties prioritize benefits for those communities most impacted by pollution. This is yet another opportunity for California to be creative and demonstrate that industry cannot cheat our environmental regulations and harm our people. We call on our Governor and Attorney General to advocate for using any form of penalty, including funds, associated with this egregious act to equitably address the needs of our must vulnerable populations.

Sincerely Signed,

A Concerned Californian and Victim of Illegal Pollution

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