By Jacob H. Zoghlin, Esq.
The United States Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) recently opened a criminal inquiry into another automobile manufacturer’s emissions-certification process.1
In the last several years, as emissions and fuel efficiency standards have tightened, automobile companies have faced accusations of violating those standards and falsifying tests or technical data. Some have questioned the accuracy of the companies’ computer-modeling methods, while other companies have been accused of installing “defeat” devices to help their vehicles cheat on the emissions tests.
In January, one automobile company paid the DOJ nearly $800 million dollars to settle claims that it had allegedly equipped vehicles with illegal emissions-management software. Likewise, other automobile companies have incurred billions of dollars in fines and legal settlements tied to alleged attempts to circumvent emissions requirements and cheat on emissions tests. As the automobile industry is seeing, taking shortcuts — or intentionally cheating to avoid compliance — can lead to substantial legal problems, including criminal investigations.
Although environmental laws and regulations can be complex and technical, ensuring strict compliance is extremely important. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a statewide operation, or a small business, it’s better to incur the costs of compliance up-front than to cut-corners and risk large fines, legal liability, and criminal prosecution. Often that means engaging professionals to help you understand the legal constraints (such as on discharges), whether you are required to register or report to administrative agencies, or how to obtain and renew any required permits.
1 See “Ford Says Justice Dept. Has Opened Criminal Inquiry Into Emissions Issues,” By Tiffany Hsu, The New York Times, April 26, 2019, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/26/business/ford-emissions-criminal-investigation.html.
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