Asleep on the job
The Ministry of Environment has brought criminal charges against Audi Volkswagen Korea, the global carmaker’s corporation in Korea, for not executing the ministry’s recommendations to correct technical flaws with its diesel cars following Volkswagen’s shocking emissions-rigging scandal.
We welcome the ministry’s decision even if it was somewhat delayed. But we can hardly deny that the government took the action in the face of growing public outrage over its overly passive reaction to the scandal that started in the United States last year. After the shameful scandal raised a serious environmental issue - it laid bare the dangers of environmental pollution from diesel cars - local car owners strongly demanded the government come up with detailed action plans to fight the pollution from not only diesel cars sold by Volkswagen but also other companies’ diesel cars.
Since the breakout of the scandal, Koreans have increasingly been casting doubts on the government’s will to fix it. Yet Audi Volkswagen Korea did not submit detailed explanations about the reasons for its emission problem even though that’s a basic requirement in accordance with our law. The company continued to show an insincere attitude toward the requirement, saying it has not yet developed software to fix the problem.
But our government has been strangely silent after levying a paltry 14.1 billion won ($11.6 million) fine on the company. There are criticisms that the Ministry of Environment and the National Institute of Environmental Research relied on wrong methods to find out what really went wrong. Critics raised the suspicion that the environmental institute only analyzed the results of repeated indoor tests for certification instead of scrutinizing the software that was used to cheat on emissions tests in order to let the company off the hook.
In markets overseas, environmental regulations have been increasingly toughened for not only diesel cars but gasoline automobiles as well. But our government tends to take a lukewarm stance when it comes to environmental regulations. A senior official at the environment ministry said, “If we reinforce environmental standards, it causes problems for our car industry. If the government toughens regulations on imported cars’ emissions, it could make our car exports difficult, causing damage to our entire car industry.”
That is a frank admission that the government has given up a part of its responsibility for protection of the environment in order to safeguard the domestic car industry. But strengthened environmental regulation ultimately leads to technological innovation. From the long term perspective, such regulations should help ratchet up the competitiveness of our car industry. For Volkswagen, the ball is now in the court of the prosecution and any civil lawsuit. The government must devise measures to address the issue of environmental pollution triggered by the Volkswagen scandal.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 30