Engine makers fined in settlement with EPA

October 23, 1998

From staff and AP reports

WASHINGTON - The government slapped seven engine manufacturers, including Mack Trucks, with fines and ordered them to improve pollution controls Thursday as part of a $1 billion settlement of allegations that they cheated to get diesel truck engines to pass federal emissions tests.

--cont. from front page--

The settlement, described as the largest environmental enforcement action ever taken, calls on the manufacturers to remove devices from more than 1.1 million truck engines now on the road when they come in for overhaul and to improve pollution controls of new engines beginning next year.

"These seven companies sold engines designed to defeat federal anti-pollution controls," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at a news conference. She accused the manufacturers of putting Americans' health in jeopardy.


"No person, no company has the right to violate these standards and put the American people at risk," said Browner. She leveled her criticism at the engine manufacturers and said truckers should not be blamed.

"The truckers were deceived just as the American people were deceived," she said.

Mack Trucks, which in June had said the government's actions could force it to halt production at its Hagerstown plant, released a statement on Thursday saying its operations will not be significantly impacted.

"This agreement means a continuation of the dramatic emissions reductions this industry has achieved over the past 20 years," Mack President and CEO Michel Gigou said. "It's good for the environment, and in the best interests of our employees, dealers and customers."

"We continue to maintain that Mack has always been in compliance with EPA emissions regulations, and are dismayed by EPA's allegations that we tried to circumvent them," he said.

Attorney General Janet Reno called the settlement - in which manufacturers denied wrongdoing - ''one of the most important environmental enforcement actions in American history'' and said it would reduce smog-causing emissions from large trucks by one-third over the next five years.

As part of the settlement, the seven companies, which account for 95 percent of the diesel engines used in tractor-trailer rigs, large delivery trucks and buses, must pay $83.4 million in fines and an additional $110 million on projects to reduce air pollution, including new engine research.

The companies also agreed to spend at least $850 million to improve emissions levels on new engines and remove from 1.1 million engines now on the road the computer programs the government says allowed engines to pass emissions tests even though they violated pollution requirements once on the road.

''They were cheating. It's just that simple,'' declared Browner, holding up an engine computer that the government says was programmed to meet federal emissions requirements during laboratory tests. Once on the road, however, the computer program interfered with the engine's pollution control equipment, causing in some cases three times as much pollution as allowed, she said.

This year alone, said the EPA, the tampering with emissions controls in diesel engines resulted in the release of more than 1.3 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide beyond what is allowed under the federal standards.

The EPA and major manufacturers of heavy-duty diesel truck engines have been negotiating for more than a year in an attempt to reach a settlement and avoid a government lawsuit and what probably would have been a lengthy trial.

Under the settlement, the engine makers continued to deny any violations of the clean air laws. Aside from Mack, the other manufacturers are:

  • Cummins Engine Co.
  • Detroit Diesel Corp.
  • Navistar International
  • Transportation Co.
  • Caterpillar Inc.
  • Renault Vehicules Industriels
  • and Volvo Truck Corp.

The manufacturers have argued the EPA tests were designed for urban stop-and-go driving and that the engines passed the federal tests.

But Browner said the manufacturers passed those tests through ''deceit'' and by using devices ''designed to defeat'' air pollution controls once the trucks were on the open highway. The devices first were put on trucks in 1988 when the federal government issued its first federal pollution standards for heavy-duty diesel engines, the EPA said.

''It was an extraordinary example of high-tech cheating,'' said John Cruden, the Justice Department's deputy assistant attorney general for environmental enforcement.

Some environmentalists have argued that the government is required under the Clean Air Act to issue a recall of the 1.1 million trucks on the road.

But Browner rejected that option, arguing that getting engine manufacturers to agree to fix the problem when engines come in for routine overhaul every three to five years ''is much, much better than what we would get under a recall.'' Truckers would not be legally obligated to bring their trucks in under a recall order, she said.

The trucking industry has criticized the anticipated government action.

Attempting to head it off, Walter B. McCormick Jr., president of the American Trucking Association, complained in a letter to President Clinton the action would require manufacturers to make engine changes ''in overly short and unreasonable time periods'' and cause severe economic problems.

- Staff writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

The Herald-Mail Articles