Pot, meet kettle

VW and RWE bosses trade blows over climate policy

Lignite Mine Faces Battle In $2.4 Trillion Renewable Shift
Almost to the Hambach Forest. Source: Bloomberg

While sitting in a glass villa in Wolfsburg filled with noxious diesel fumes, it would seem foolhardy to lob a stone about environmentalism anywhere.

Yet that is exactly what Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess did in a Süddeutsche Zeitung interview this week when he waded into the war of words over the Hambach Forest. Diess said it was “unbelievable” that utility RWE wanted to scoop away the old-growth woodland to get at the brown coal beneath.

VW, you will recall, is itself embroiled in a scandal for using software that allowed millions of its diesel engines to trick regulators into believing they weren’t that bad for the environment.

“We’re investing millions in electrifying cars,” Diess said, not mentioning his dirty diesels. “That’s the right thing to do. But then we see an expansion of brown coal generation, the most climate-damaging fuel of all.” The executive was so incensed that he threatened to travel to Hambach to take part in ongoing protests against RWE’s plans himself — a single brown-coal power plant, he said, emits as much carbon as 9 million diesel engine cars.

Volkswagen Audi Clean Air Act
Hundreds of abandoned VW diesels rot at an unused raceway in Colorado. Tell us more about your environmental plans, Mr. Diess. Source: Getty

But that wouldn’t be the only protest Diess is making. Despite his demands that RWE become more environment-minded, he has also derided EU plans to force the car industry to reduce CO2 emissions by 35 percent by 2030.

RWE boss Rolf Martin Schmitz wasn’t amused, Handelsblatt has learned, when Diess’s rock came crashing into his own glass villa in the industrial western German city of Essen. Schmitz continues to push for the deforestation of the Hambach Forest despite the PR disaster it has become.

To defend against the verbal assault by the VW CEO, Schmitz had his people invite Diess over to the strip mine adjacent to the Hambach Forest. A meeting of two environmental villains only a Bond director could love. Perhaps they could do donuts in the entrails of the strip mine in a recalled VW Golf GTI.

Both Diess and Schmitz claim efforts to become more green put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.

In a letter to employees this week, seen by Handelsblatt, Mr. Schmitz told RWE workers he could not “completely assuage their worries about the future.” He also complained of attacks against the company that depict it “as backward and outdated.”

Greenpeace, for one, agrees with those reports.

“Someone is systematically lying about their own environmental record to push it onto someone else,” said Karsten Smid, a climate and energy specialist with Greenpeace. “We’ve been demanding that the auto industry make good [on climate promises] for a long time.”

Handelsblatt correspondents Jürgen Flauger, Anja Müller, Stefan Menzel and Jannik Tillar contributed to this report. It was adapted into English by Brían Hanrahan and Andrew Bulkeley. To contact the author: a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.com

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