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The Environmental Protection Agency has been on the hunt for manufacturers and installers of diesel defeat devices. These units bypass emissions controls, which is, obviously, illegal. Its latest catch is two companies located in Detroit. Diesel Ops and Orion Diesel were found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act for selling and installing diesel defeat devices. And the fine is a whopping $10 million.

Who determined these diesel emissions defeat fines?

diesel exhaust
Exhaust fumes from the exhaust of a diesel engine | Getty

How this works is once the EPA identifies clean air violators, it proposes a civil penalty to a local district court. Then, the court can grant or deny the penalty amount. In this case, a U.S. District Court in Detroit just granted the penalty amount after receiving it in December. But there are other penalties beyond this initial one. 

Nicholas Piccolo, who owns both companies, must pay a $455,925 civil penalty for “failing to respond to a Clean Air Act information request.” And he also must pay a judgment for almost $1 million over “fraudulent transfers in violation of the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act.” 

What laws do the diesel emissions defeat devices violate?

Clean diesel
The Certified Clean Idle sticker means lower emissions when the vehicle is idling | Getty

“Defeat devices violate Clean Air Act emissions requirements that protect public health and the environment, including by protecting vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement. 

As an aside, the Justice Department also handed down a permanent injunction. It prohibits future sales and installations of diesel defeat devices. That should probably apply without saying. 

The EPA crackdown on diesel emissions violators began in 2015 when it found that Volkswagen was violating the Clean Air Act. Under normal driving conditions, diesel-equipped Volkswagens had emissions controls programmed not to function. This was for better performance and mileage. But the software triggered the initialization of emissions controls when it sensed a test. The result yielded clean emissions results. 

How much did VW have to pay in fines?

Crushed Audi and Volkswagen diesel EURO 4 cars | Getty

In addition, fines were handed out to automakers with similar software. In Volkswagen’s case, it paid out almost $35 billion in fines and settlements. It also had to buy back vehicles with the defeat software. That cost the automaker still more billions. It is the largest emissions scandal so far. 

With those discoveries, the EPA launched its National Compliance Initiative. But the smaller fish, like Orion Diesel and Diesel Ops, are beginning to see significant fines as of late. So far, the EPA has fined 40 businesses making, selling, or installing defeat systems through civil enforcement. “This case shows that EPA and our law enforcement partners will hold responsible those who illegally profit from defeat devices,” Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield from the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance stated. 


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