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Engine maker Cummins to repair, replace 600,000 Ram trucks in $2 billion emissions cheating scandal

BY ALEXA ST. JOHN

The Department of Justice has ordered a recall of 600,000 Ram trucks as part of a settlement that directs engine maker Cummins Inc. to remedy environmental damage it caused when it illegally installed emissions control software in several hundred thousand vehicles, skirting emissions testing.

It released new details of the December settlement Wednesday.

Cummins is accused of circumventing emissions testing by using devices that can bypass or defeat emissions controls. The engine manufacturer will pay a previously announced $1.675 billion civil penalty to settle claims – the largest ever secured under the Clean Air Act – plus $325 million on remedies.

That brings Cummins’ total penalty to more than $2 billion, which officials from the U.S. Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board and California Attorney General called “landmark” in a call with reporters Wednesday.

“Let this settlement be a lesson: We won’t let greedy corporations cheat their way to success and run over the health and wellbeing of consumers and our environment along the way,” California AG Rob Bonta said.

Over the course of a decade, hundreds of thousands of Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks – manufactured by Stellantis – were equipped with Cummins diesel engines that incorporated the bypass engine control software. This includes 630,000 installed with illegal defeat devices and 330,000 equipped with undisclosed auxiliary emission control devices.

Officials could not estimate how many of those vehicles are currently on the road, but Cummins – which has maintained it has not done anything wrong – must undergo a nationwide recall of more than 600,000 noncompliant Ram vehicles.

Stellantis deferred comment on the case to engine maker Cummins, which said in a statement that Wednesday’s actions do not involve any more financial commitments than those announced in December. “We are looking forward to obtaining certainty as we conclude this lengthy matter and continue to deliver on our mission of powering a more prosperous world,” the statement said.

Cummins also said the engines that are not being recalled did not exceed emissions limits.

As part of the settlement, Cummins will make up for smog-forming pollution that resulted from its actions.

Preliminary estimates suggested its emissions bypass produced “thousands of tons of excess emissions of nitrogen oxides,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland previously said in a prepared statement.

The Clean Air Act, a federal law enacted in 1963 to reduce and control air pollution across the nation, requires car and engine manufacturers to comply with emission limits to protect the environment and human health.

The transportation sector is responsible for about one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and much of that stems from light-duty vehicles. Limits aim to curb the amount of emissions especially from burning gasoline and diesel fuel, including carbon dioxide and other problematic pollutants.

“We increasingly are finding that the public health impacts from emissions from cars are really devastating and it is one of our biggest sources also of emissions leading to climate change,” said Jacqueline Klopp, director Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Columbia Climate School.

“To the extent that vehicle manufacturers are trying to evade our emission standards that are our biggest tool for protecting us from these public health impacts and climate change, these kinds of fines for evasion are hopefully a very important deterrent,” she added. “There are profound justice and equity issues around air pollution produced by transport emissions.”

Diesel exhaust is extremely harmful to human health and a potent carcinogen. Long-term exposure to ozone-creating nitrogen oxides can cause health issues like respiratory infections, lung disease, and asthma.

Officials said Wednesday it was not lost on them that the Cummins settlement follows several other notable emissions cheating cases involving the auto industry in recent years.

Wednesday’s details come seven years after German automaker Volkswagen agreed to plead guilty to criminal felony counts following investigations into its use of similar defeat devices, a massive emissions scandal known as Dieselgate.

The company installed software in certain model year 2009-2015 diesel vehicles across its brands, circumventing emissions standards and emitting up to 40 times more pollution than those standards allow. Volkswagen said 11 million vehicles across the globe were equipped with the pollution controls.

In 2017, the automaker agreed to pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty in addition to $1.5 billion in separate civil resolutions.

Fiat Chrysler saw similar consequences in 2019 for failing to disclose defeat devices used to make vehicle emission control systems function differently during emission testing. More than 100,000 EcoDiesel Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles were sold in the U.S. with the unauthorized software.

The automaker agreed to pay a $305 million civil penalty to settle the claims of cheating emission tests in 2019.

In 2020, Daimler, the auto parent of Mercedes-Benz, agreed to a $857 million civil penalty as a result of its disclosure failures and claims over its violations of the Clean Air Act.

“There’s a lot of sunk money into diesel engines and people making profits off of diesel engines,” Columbia’s Klopp said. “Unless you give them a really big fine and a really big deterrent, they’re willing to pay the fines to get those profits. That’s really sad because it puts the profits before the health of our communities.”

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AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed.

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Alexa St. John is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @ast.john. Reach her at ast.john@ap.org.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

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