The Environmental Protection Agency levied $10 million in fines against two suburban Detroit companies that produced and installed “defeat devices” meant to help boost the performance of diesel-powered vehicles — and also resulted in substantial increases in smoky emissions.
Defeat devices have created quite a bit of havoc for the auto industry in recent years. Several automakers, most notably Volkswagen, have been caught using technology meant to improve the mileage and performance of their diesel models. However, in the process, result in higher levels of soot and other emissions.
But the agency has also targeted companies producing aftermarket devices that not only boost performance but also create a surge of smoke that fans call “rolling coal.” Such devices have become highly politicized and popular amongst anti-environmentalists opposed to tightened emissions and fuel economy standards.
Crackdown nets two Detroit-based companies
“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 release announcing the latest crackdown.
Detroit-based Diesel Ops LLC and Orion Diesel LLC are the latest companies caught up in a sweep known as the National Compliance Initiative. Since it launched in 2020, the EPA has levied fines against 40 different defeat device manufacturers and installers.
The two Detroit companies are both owned by Nicholas Piccolo — who faces personal fines of nearly $1.5 million, on top of the $10 million penalty levied against the two companies.
Jail time for one emissions cheat
It could have been worse for Piccolo. In August, the Matthew Sydney Geourge was convicted in federal court for his involvement in another company producing and installing rolling coal technology. Spartan Diesel Technologies was found to be violating the U.S. Clean Air Act using devices to override the emissions systems built into Ford F-150 trucks using the 6.4-liter Power Stroke diesel.
While Spartan was ordered to pay a $2 million fine, the U.S. Department of Justice also accused Geourge of tax evasion. He was hit with a personal fine of $1.2 million, ordered to pay another $1.2 million to the IRS and sentenced to one year and a day behind bars.
Such cases show “that EPA and our law enforcement partners will hold responsible those who illegally profit from defeat devices,” Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a news release announcing the fines against Diesel Ops and Orion Diesel.
Crackdown nets some big fish
The National Compliance Initiative aimed to put more teeth behind the crackdown on emissions defeat devices. It can bring “a maximum civil penalty of $4,819 per defeat device manufactured, sold, or installed, or per vehicle tampered,” according to the EPA.
The penalties levied against companies like Spartan, Orion and Diesel Ops are dwarfed by what some of the major automakers have faced, however.
Volkswagen has so far spent more than $35 billion to settle federal and state lawsuits after it was discovered that the automaker used hidden technology to pass EPA diesel emissions regulations with a variety of VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles.