Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee announced Monday that the county will receive at least $18 million as part of a settlement with Volkswagen tied to the automaker’s emissions diesel scandal.
The settlement amount is part of the $85 million that Volkswagen and one of its subsidiaries, Audi, agreed in May to pay to resolve a lawsuit brought by government entities across the state.
Harris County first filed its lawsuit in 2015, accusing the German automaker of designing cars that sidestepped state and federal emission standards. The Texas Attorney General’s Office and other local governments later joined in suing Volkswagen.
“It doesn’t matter how big your company is, how many assets your company has on its balance sheet,” Menefee said at a press conference. “If you’re doing business in Harris County, we will not allow you to pollute the air that we breathe, to illegally harm our firemen or to mislead the good folks who regulate industry.”
The Harris County Commissioners Court will decide how to spend the money from the settlement, which Menefee said is comparable in size to others the county has received. County officials reached a $20 million settlement in February with JUUL as part of a national settlement in a deceptive marketing case against the e-cigarette maker.
“In the wake of the JUUL settlement, I think we’re going to continue to come in with these eight-figure settlements to help move the needle for the Harris County budget,” Menefee said.
In its lawsuit, Harris County accused the German automaker of installing software in cars manufactured between 2009 and 2015 that produced fraudulent results when tested for emissions. Harris County officials alleged the cars produced up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide when not being tested.
County officials estimated at least 6,000 of the affected cars were sold in Harris County.
Volkswagen recalled hundreds of thousands of vehicles across the globe, while also paying tens of billions of dollars in fines, penalties and legal settlements connected to the scandal.
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis described the settlement as a win in the broader fight against environmental harms caused by industry.
“While Volkswagen’s actions didn’t lead to anything as dramatic as a chemical fire or explosion, their actions were far more insidious,” Ellis said. “Volkswagen put vehicles on the road in which they had programmed software in order to circumvent monitoring emissions. They were not only purposefully misleading Texas, but they were harming our environment in the process.”
Nitrogen oxide emitted by cars is a main component of ground-level ozone, a smog-like substance that can cause respiratory problems, such as difficulty breathing and lung infections. According to the American Lung Association, Houston is the ninth-most polluted metropolitan area in the U.S. when it comes to ozone.
“Today’s settlement is a win for Harris County government,” Menefee said. “But more importantly, for the people who live in this county.”
A county-by-county breakdown of the settlement allocation was not immediately available Monday.