Here’s how the U.S. government says “happy new year” to Volkswagen: a lawsuit over the diesel cheating scandal.

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Justice Department jointly filed a civil suit in Michigan federal court today alleging nearly 600,000 VW cars had “illegal defeat devices” that allowed the cars to skirt EPA standards when not in test mode, emitting more than 40 times the legal limit of oxides of nitrogen pollutants.

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The complaint also alleges VW violated the Clean Air Act by importing and selling engines with different emissions than what was certified with the EPA and California Air Resources Board.

Via a statement:

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”

“With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”

Today’s complaint seeks an assessment of civil penalties, and says a criminal investigation is ongoing.

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There’s that, and the raft of lawsuits from owners, and the recall and repair itself, which hasn’t even been made public yet... I’d say VW’s off to a great start this year.

Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.