By Lucas L. Johnson, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said he visited Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant on Wednesday to let its workers know the state is on their side amid an emissions cheating scandal involving the German automaker that he says has nothing to do with them.
The Republican governor spoke to employees then talked to reporters at a state transportation management center across from the VW plant.
“Everybody knows about Volkswagen’s struggles,” Haslam told the news media. “What is getting lost in that story is that there are some men and women right here in Chattanooga that are producing a great product, who have nothing at all to do with the problems that have been created.”
Haslam added: “One of the purposes today was to tell them, ‘The state of Tennessee is not going anywhere in terms of supporting you all. We want this to be a success.'”
The governor said he still has confidence in the plant and believes it can still successfully push out vehicles — including the production of a new sports utility vehicle — despite the scandal in which Volkswagen was caught outfitting diesel cars with software to defeat emissions tests.
Software installed on 2009-2015 diesel Volkswagens sensed when the cars were hooked up to testing stands, and switched the emissions system to pollution controls that reduced the output of nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog and other pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said.
Out on the road, the exhaust system would return to allowing more pollutants to pass through the nitrogen oxide trap and spill out of the tail pipe at up to 40 times the allowable levels.
“I still think that Chattanooga can be the hub for a great production facility for the leading producer of automobiles in the world,” Haslam said.
The governor said he spoke with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy this week and that he was encouraged that she understood “how important this facility is to this entire region.”
“The administrator was very explicit in saying that we understand that these are critical manufacturing jobs,” Haslam said. “Nobody is here to try to do anything except make certain that laws are enforced while we make certain that folks here still have a job to come back to.”
The governor’s visit to the plant comes a day before Volkswagen’s top American executive is to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in Washington.
Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee said Tuesday that the panel is opening a separate investigation, this one concerning federal tax credits the company gave VW buyers.
The House subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania, said lawmakers will investigate Volkswagen’s admission that it installed “defeat-devices” in some diesel vehicles.
“The American people want to know why these devices were in place, how the decision was made to install them and how they went undetected for so long,” Murphy said in a statement. “We will get them those answers.”
Haslam said he still has confidence in Volkswagen, but that the company still has a rough road ahead.
“Volkswagen understands they’re going to have to answer all the questions that are being asked,” he said. “They’re going to have to deal with the legal issues.”