Toyota Motor agreed to pay the largest civil penalty ever – $180 million – to settle a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice because the automaker failed to report violations of U.S. emissions regulations for a decade.
The Japanese automaker avoided reporting violations of the Clean Air Act to the Environmental Protection Agency between 2005 and 2015. The company didn’t report defects that hindered its vehicles’ ability to control tailpipe emissions “designed to protect the public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants,” the DOJ said.
The lawsuit was filed and settled simultaneously in U.S. District Court in Manhattan because Toyota agreed to all the provisions in the consent decree. The company’s late or, in some cases, non-existent filings allowed for millions of potentially non-compliant vehicles to be sold in the U.S.
For a decade, the automaker systematically failed to report defects and top Toyota executives in Japan knew about the practice but failed to stop it, the DOJ contends.
“Toyota shut its eyes to the noncompliance,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement, “failing to provide proper training, attention, and oversight to its Clean Air Act reporting obligations.”
“Toyota’s actions undermined EPA’s self-disclosure system and likely led to delayed or avoided emission-related recalls, resulting in financial benefit to Toyota and excess emissions of air pollutants. Today, Toyota pays the price for its misconduct with a $180 million civil penalty and agreement to injunctive relief to ensure that its violations will not be repeated.”
While Toyota officials agreed to pay the fine, they appear unwilling to go as far as being the environmental bad guy the Justice Department suggests. Eric Booth, a spokesman for the automaker, told the New York Times the company alerted the authorities as soon as the lapses came to light, and that the delay in reporting “resulted in a negligible emissions impact, if any.”
“Nonetheless, we recognize that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our own high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter,” Booth added.
This isn’t Toyota’s first brush with this issue. In 2003, the automaker was penalized $20 million for selling 2.2 million vehicles with noncompliant on-board diagnostic systems. That was two years before the current round of transgressions began.
In addition to the financial penalty, the company is working under an injunction that ensures it complies with emissions-reporting requirements going forward.