County claims possible suit against VW due to poor air quality, state data disagrees

County claims possible suit against VW due to poor air quality, state data disagrees

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Smith County is still planning to enter their own lawsuit against one of the largest automakers because of alleged emissions violations that the county claims led to reduced air quality.

If the county chooses to sue VW, they would join lawsuits filed by the State of Texas, U.S. Department of Justice and Harris County.

Volkswagen was sent a notice of violations by the Environmental Protection Agency on September 18 and November 2. The agency claimed VW used software as a defeat device to detect when vehicles are being tested for emissions and making them appear to run cleaner. The Department of Justice filed their suit against the automaker on January 4, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act, possibly leaving Volkswagen on the hook for millions in fines.

Smith County's possible lawsuit was not on the radar of county officials until receiving a November 2 letter from Tyler-based law firm, Potter Minton. In the letter they told County Judge Joel Baker:

Local governmental entities that file suit themselves share any recovery equally with the state, but those who choose to allow the State to pursue claims alone will not share in any recovery. Instead, the entire recovery would go to the State's general fund.

"Potter Minton originally approached the county and said this was something we think smith county should look at," Smith County Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith, said.

Smith County says the errors by VW led to poorer air quality in East Texas, something that is not backed up by data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which operates an air quality station outside the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport.

VW was cited by federal agencies for emitting excess levels of oxides of nitrogen, but in data from the TCEQ air station, the figures from 2008-2015 showed a downward trend.

We attempted to show the figures we found to county officials and get their reaction, but they did not want to talk on this story.

Another issue the county faces is how they are affected by VW skirting emissions testing that is not even required of motorists in Smith County.

"Some of this stuff is going to be determined as the case goes forward. We just have a belief, in conjunction with Potter Minton, we have a good faith belief," Smith said.

He said one of the outcomes of a possible trial could be money to the county. However, what that money would go to, remains an unanswered question.

The county did say they will not be paying Potter Minton for their services, signing a contingency agreement to get a portion of the outcome of a possible trial victory.

Volkswagen has launched a website for affected owners and lessees to apologize and offer a 'Goodwill Package' which includes a $500 Visa Gift Card, $500 card that can be used at Volkswagen dealerships and three years of 24-hour Roadside Assistance. To learn more about that program, click here.

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