Diesel engine manufacturer Cummins has agreed to settle an accused violation of the Clean Air Act for a record $1.675 billion. The company was accused of installing defeat devices and other "undisclosed" emissions equipment on almost a million engines used in Ram pickups, allowing the release of thousands of tons of harmful nitric oxides.
The settlement, announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice, concerns the emissions equipment used on 960,000 diesel engines used on Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups between model years 2013 and 2023. They share the 6.7-liter Cummins ISB turbo inline-six, 630,000 of which were fitted with defeat devices through 2019. A further 330,000 built from 2019 onward were also fitted with "undisclosed auxiliary emission control devices" that are also part of the settlement.
These emissions equipment setups allowed the dissemination, rather than controlled burn, of nitric oxides, or NOX. These compounds play a role in forming acid rain and smog in the environment, and can exacerbate symptoms of asthma, if not cause it outright over a long period. NOX is also linked to a variety of other potentially fatal health problems.
"Vulnerable communities are more likely to reside near highways where these harmful emissions are concentrated, making this agreement critical to advancing our environmental justice agenda," remarked EPA Administrator Michael Regan to Reuters. The publication reports the settlement to be the biggest fine ever issued under the Clean Air Act, and the second-largest environmental penalty deal in history. It would seem to be second only to the mammoth BP Deepwater Horizon settlement, which cost nearly $21 billion.
Cummins, which also supplies Daimler North America and Paccar, said it has been conducting an "internal review" of the situation since 2019. It says it has recalled some affected trucks at the cost of $58 million, and that it expects the settlement to cost if $2.04 billion total. Cummins says it "has seen no evidence that anyone acted in bad faith and does not admit wrongdoing."
However, Cummins' statement also indicates the settlement does not meaningfully impact its business prospects. The company says it "is in a strong financial position with existing liquidity and access to capital to satisfy obligations associated with the settlements, support ongoing operations, and execute its growth strategy." In other words, the fine might hurt its bottom line, but in the end it'll roll right off. It's sometimes said that crimes punishable by fines are only crimes for the poor. Without evidence that Cummins' business has been truly harmed as a consequence of its actions here, it's hard to read things any other way.
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