- Associated Press - Monday, November 16, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state environmental regulators took enforcement action against Volkswagen on Monday, accusing the company of violating the state’s Clean Air Act and exposing people to harmful pollution with its emissions cheating scandal.

The Department of Ecology issued a formal notice of violation to Volkswagen AG, Audi and Volkswagen Group of America, the first step in an administrative process that could result in large penalties.

Volkswagen is facing fines, expensive recalls and lost sales after U.S. authorities found it had equipped 482,000 cars with software that turned off emissions controls and enhanced performance when the cars were not being tested.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the cars, with 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engines, emit 10 to 40 times the allowable amount of harmful nitrogen oxide while being driven. Ecology estimates that in Washington, the vehicles emitted from 122 to 529 metric tons of nitrogen oxides above the standard since 2009.

“Volkswagen broke the trust of consumers and exposed people to harmful pollution,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement.

A message left with VW seeking comment was not immediately returned Monday. VW has 30 days to respond with additional information. The state could then issue penalties, which could be appealed through an administrative hearings board.

State officials haven’t had direct conversations with the company on the matter, Stu Clark, manager of the Ecology’s air quality program, told reporters.

“We’re still investigating the level and number of vehicles that might be in play in Washington. We have to understand the level of pollution and the level of vehicles and then factor that into any penalty decision that we might make,” Clark said.

He noted that number could expand since the EPA announced that additional vehicles may be affected.

“Volkswagen itself has admitted that they put the defeat devices on these vehicles, so I don’t think the fact that they’ve been polluting excessively is in question,” Clark said.

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