By Doug Mayer
Senior Web Lackey
(and Ticked Off TDI Owner)
September 18, 2015, Washington, D.C. — The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog. – New York Times.
I am sitting in the Emergency Room of Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, NH, hunched over a machine that is delivering Albuterol via humidified oxygen, directly to my constricted lung passages.
It’s a routine to which I’ve become accustomed, over the past 30 years. And it’s one which too many of us who suffer from asthma and other lung diseases know all too well. Anyone who’s ever endured a full-blown asthma attack can tell you just how terrifying it can be. And rightly so—each year over 3,000 people die as a result in our country.
So, when the news broke this past week that VW had duped the EPA and, therefore, every one of us, with their emissions testing slight-of-hand, I took it personally. VW’s willful disregard of the law is a direct assault on my health. By cheating on the EPA test, nearly a half million of their diesel passenger cars are today spewing up to 40 times the allowable levels of nitrogen oxide—a pollutant known to be especially dangerous for those of us with a lung disease. It is an act of violence against, as Frank O’Donnell, the President of the DC-based advocacy group Clear Air Watch called it, “The breathing public.”
And, I’m one of the lucky ones. The funny thing about asthma is that the symptoms can disappear for months or years at time. I’ve run no shortage of mountainous ultra-marathons, and often participate in what the Car Talk staff calls “Mayereseque” adventures in the mountains. Take part in a backcountry ski race from Crested Butte, Colorado to Aspen, 40 miles through the mountains? Where do I sign up?
Many others have it much worse. They spend years taking oral steroids, are in and out of hospitals, and frequently hospitalized. In the US, nearly 500,000 people spend a night in the hospital for asthma, each year.
And here's where my story gets worse. I recently bought a 2015 VW Golf TDI. It’s the perfect car for someone who wants a little sportiness, with some eco street cred, too. Or, it was. Now, it’s a gross polluter. Worse, actually— it’s rolling coal wearing Patagonia fleece. Poser would be putting it politely.
So, where do we go from here?
I’d like to see VW executives prosecuted as the violent offenders they are. Time in jail? Absolutely. But, I’m worried about recidivism with white-collar criminals. So, how about Dr. Martin Winterkorn (CEO), Dr. Herbert Diess (Chairman, VW Passenger Brand) and Michael Horn (Not a doctor, CEO Volkswagen Group of America) spend a little time in the ER, watching kids, adults, and seniors from every walk of life stumble through the double doors, wheezing and wondering if this is the moment they take their last breath.
I’d also like to see a class action suit by everyone with lung diseases, against VW. Calculate the damages of the crime, and donate the proceeds to the American Lung Association.
And for those of us who were conned by the suits in Wolfsburg? How about VW is forced to buy back each and every TDI from each of us at full price? Then they can fix them, reducing their power and performance while meeting actual emission standards, and then they can try to sell them again.
General Motors just agreed to pay 900 million for its ignition switch deceit, which some say cost more than 100 lives, not to mention injuries. That wasn't enough. They’ll just bank that as the cost of doing business. VW has said it will set aside 7 billion to address this current hiccup. Also not enough, in my opinion. The maximum allowable fine is 18 billion in the US. Maybe the EPA can build a piece of software that adds a zero when the withdrawal comes from VW’s bank account?
There's no reason for leniency, here. It's not as if some hapless engineer in Wolfsburg is beating his head into an airbag right now, for accidently dividing by zero. All the early evidence points to long-term collusion with intent to decieve, at a level much higher than the junior executive suite.
What to do with that 18 billion? Some of us have lost a not insignificant chunk of change, and should be fairly compensated. But, every sentient being that takes a breathe on this planet is at risk from VW's diesel deceit. Take what's left, and allocate it to treating the resulting sooty sickness, and for scrubbing the air. And when we get down to the last $500, save it for a set of stockades. I'm not a fan of vengence, but I'm also not saintly enough that I wouldn't enjoy heaving a few rotten vegetables at the good doctors and their accomplices.
But... what will happen?
Our federal bureaucracy seems to have a way of letting corporations off the hook. This case is so egregious, however, that I’ll optimistically hold out a bit of hope for a punishment that, just once, starts to look like it might actually fit the crime.
In the meantime, along with my upcoming recall notice, I hope VW will send all of us TDI owners an extra Advair discus. (Sorry, VW: they’re nearly $300 each. Did I mention the personal financial cost of lung diseases?) And when you’re done with that, cough up the lost resale value for my car. The good news is, you’ll find coughing just a little bit easier, these days. The air’s filled with pollutants.