Jordan Candler / January 12, 2017

Scott Pruitt to Inherit EPA Emissions Mess

The outcome of the EPA’s allegations against Fiat Chrysler is uncertain.

This week the Justice Department revealed the investigation into Volkswagen was nearly complete. Under a settlement that’s subject to formal court approval, VW will face more than $4 billion in penalties and fines, and six VW executives — five of whom reside in Germany (and therefore outside U.S. jurisdiction) — will face charges for purposefully dodging EPA emissions rules. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says, “Volkswagen obfuscated, they denied and they ultimately lied.” FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe agreed, adding, “It is now clear that Volkswagen’s top executives knew about this activity and deliberately kept regulators and consumers in the dark.”

But no sooner had the VW settlement been announced than the EPA reinvigorated the buzz over what it suspects is systemic swindling. The agency now says Fiat Chrysler also evaded diesel regulations. According to Reuters, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV of illegally using hidden software that allowed significant excess diesel emissions, the result of a probe that stemmed from regulators’ investigation of rival Volkswagen AG.” The number of vehicles affected (104,000) is on a much smaller scale than that of VW. Nevertheless, the company vehemently denies the allegations.

Unlike the VW case, what happens with Fiat Chrysler is murky at best. Next week the Trump administration replaces the current one. As attorney general of Oklahoma, incoming EPA administrator Scott Pruitt sued VW for throwing consumers under the bus. Yet he also opposes onerous EPA regulations and has not been afraid to challenge the agency he’ll now be heading.

Pruitt is also on record as stating, “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.” Ironically, that’s what these emissions scandals boil down to — forcing companies to comply with unconstitutional rules. Is VW justified? Absolutely not. But neither should the government be let off the hook for its oppressive regulatory overreach.

Will Pruitt chose to uphold the “law of the land” by punishing these automobile companies, as he did with VW in Oklahoma? Or will he prioritize reforming absurd regulations instead? That’s a delicate balance. But both can be done. In the future, like with ObamaCare, it would be better to avoid these messes by refusing to enact constitutionally dubious laws and regulations altogether. Pruitt’s got a rough road ahead of him. May he execute wisely.

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