Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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Volkswagen's Shares Veer off Cliff After Automaker Admits It Cheated Pollution Tests

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 11:12 AM EDT

Investors severely punished Volkswagen when trading opened on Monday morning in Europe, driving the German automaker's stock price off a cliff. The steep decline comes after the US Environmental Protection Agency accused the company of evading federal clean air laws, and its CEO was forced to apologize. The rout wiped away nearly a quarter of the company's share value virtually overnight—about 15.4 billion euros ($17.4 billion), according to Bloomberg. As of Monday morning US time, the price had rebounded a bit.

On Friday, the EPA handed down a damning citation to VW outlining a plot that, while highly nefarious, is pretty impressive in its scope: According to the EPA, the company outfitted half a million diesel-powered cars sold in the United States with software called a "defeat device" that could detect when the car was being officially tested for toxic emissions. During the test, the cars' computers would apply extra pollution controls; for the rest of the time, when the cars were being driven on the road, smog-forming emissions were up to 40 times higher than the legal limit.

It's unclear how far up the chain of command the deception reached. On Sunday, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said he was "deeply sorry" for breaking the public trust and ordered an internal investigation. That won't stop the ongoing US investigation, which could ultimately result in up to $18 billion in fines. Monday's stock plunge wiped out nearly that same amount.

The Feds Just Accused Volkswagen of an Unbelievable Scheme to Evade Pollution Laws

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 3:17 PM EDT
The Jetta was one of the VW models named in the citation.

Volkswagen produced hundreds of thousands of cars with a device made to intentionally evade air pollution standards, according to a citation issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA alleges that nearly 500,000 VW cars sold in the United States over the last several years were equipped with the device, which the EPA says enabled the onboard computer to detect when the car was undergoing an emissions test. At that time, the engine would operate in a way that complied with emissions standards; at all other times, the car would produce emissions of harmful gases up to 40 times greater than allowed by federal law. The primary gas in question is nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, which is a leading cause of respiratory ailments.

This table from the citation lists the models that were allegedly outfitted with the illegal device. All of the cars in question had diesel engines:


The EPA cites a 2014 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation that found a troubling gap between real-world and laboratory emissions in some diesel cars, without naming specific manufacturers.

"When you test it in the lab, they looked great," said Anup Bandivadekar, one of the study's authors. "But when you actually drive them around, emissions were much higher."

The citation issued today lifted the curtain on the specific cars in question and delineates the federal laws VW is accused of violating. The EPA is continuing to investigate the charges and has passed the citation to the Justice Department, where it will be up to federal prosecutors to prove the charges. Volkswagen could be compelled to fix all the cars and pay up to $3,750 per car (roughly $18 billion altogether) in fines.

In a statement, a Volkswagen spokesperson said the company was cooperating with the investigation but declined to comment further.

This Catholic Congressman Is Boycotting Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

| Fri Sep. 18, 2015 11:55 AM EDT

When Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress next Thursday, there's a pretty good chance he'll talk about climate change, one of his favorite subjects of late. Paul Gosar, a Republican Congressman from Arizona, is not happy about that. 

Plenty of climate change deniers, Catholic and not, have expressed their displeasure with the Holy Father over his stance on climate. But Gosar, himself a Catholic, just became the first member of Congress to announce he will boycott the speech because of it.

In a column published in Town Hall yesterday, Gosar wrote:

The earth's climate has been changing since God created it, with or without man. On that, we should all agree…If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so in his personal time. But to promote questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous…

When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.

Obviously, Gosar, a dentist by trade, does not think man-made climate change is a real thing. He also isn't a fan of clean energy: Earlier this year, he sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for an inquiry into allegedly deceptive trade practices by the solar industry. (It was later revealed that the letter was originally drafted by Arizona's biggest power company and slipped to Gosar's office.) He also wants to impeach the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and has accused her of perjury.

Apparently, Gosar didn't get the memo that Congress, which is usually where hope for climate action goes to die, is supposed to be on its "best behavior" for the pope's visit.

So far, at least one faith group has called foul on Gosar. John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith for Public Life, said in a statement, "This stunning display of disrespect toward Pope Francis from a Catholic elected official shows a profound ignorance about the church's teachings when it comes to stewardship of creation."

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