The United States and the state of California have reached an agreement in principle with truck engine maker Cummins, paying $1.6 billion to settle claims the company violated the Clean Air Act by installing devices to defeat pollution controls in hundreds of thousands of engines. The Justice Department announced Friday.
The fine would be the largest ever under the Clean Air Act and the second-largest environmental penalty in the United States.
Defeat devices are components or software that can bypass, defeat, or provide passive emission controls, such as pollution sensors and onboard computers. They allow vehicles to pass emissions tests while emitting high levels of smog-forming pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, which are linked to asthma and other respiratory ailments.
The Justice Department has accused the agency of installing failure devices in the engines of 630,000 model year 2013 through 2019 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks. The company is said to have secretly installed supplemental emission control devices in 330,000 model year 2019 to 2023 RAM 2500 and 3500 pickup truck engines.
Truck maker Stellandis has already recalled model year 2019 trucks and has begun recalling model year 2013 to 2018 trucks.
“Violation of our environmental laws has a tangible impact. They cause real harm to people in communities across the country,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “
In a statement, Cummins said he had “seen no evidence that anyone acted in bad faith and admitted no wrongdoing.”
The company said, “We have fully cooperated with the relevant regulators, have already addressed many of the issues involved, and look forward to receiving confirmation as we conclude this lengthy matter. Cummins has conducted an extensive internal review and worked with regulators for over four years.”
The Justice Department worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the matter. The EPA has stepped up investigations into illegal emissions control software since the 2015 Volkswagen scandal, when the automaker was found to have illegally installed the devices in millions of diesel passenger cars worldwide.
In 2016, Volkswagen agreed to pay up to $14.7 billion in a consumer class action settlement. The company has agreed to recall about 430,000 of the roughly 11 million cars worldwide that installed the cheating software.
In 2020, another EPA investigation found that individual owners and operators of more than half a million diesel pickup trucks illegally disabled emissions control technology in their vehicles.
“The EPA is on the job because of what it learned from the Volkswagen scandal, and their oversight has increased significantly,” said Luke Tonachel, an expert on clean vehicle policy at the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. “Our government must continue to be vigilant to ensure that fraud does not continue.”