WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil complaint against Volkswagen on Monday in the scandal over false emissions data.
"The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA's standards, resulting in harmful air pollution," the Justice Department wrote in a statement. "The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board."
Vehicles affected include the Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle and several Audi models.
Volkswagen equipped certain 2.0-liter vehicles with software that detects when the car is being tested for emissions standards and then turns on full emissions controls only during testing, according to the complaint.
"During normal driving situations, the effectiveness of the emissions control devices is greatly reduced," the Justice Department adds. "This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory and at the test site, but during normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at levels up to 40 times the EPA compliance level."
Volkswagen is also accused of equipping certain 3.0-liter vehicles with similar software that also illicitly assists the vehicle to reach emissions standards. When driving in normal conditions, nitrogen emissions in such vehicles were up to nine times the standard.
"Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division wrote in a statement. "The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation's clean air laws alleged in the complaint."
Discussions between the U.S. government and Volkswagen about potential remedies and recalls have been ongoing. Volkswagen has proposed recalibrating the software.
The company replaced its CEO in September.