NJ Cracks down on dealerships selling dirty trucks

Multiple car dealerships in New Jersey turned profits in recent years by selling dirty trucks that lacked pollution controls, placing public health at risk. Now the state wants to make them pay.

New Jersey officials announced on Wednesday that the state is taking car dealerships who sold polluting vehicles — particularly diesel trucks — to court. The action comes after a two-year investigation by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The new lawsuit focuses on Manheim Remarketing, Inc., which is the nation’s largest vehicle auction company. Manheim — which claims it has been cooperating with the state to come into compliance — operates two auctions in New Jersey: Manheim New Jersey in Mansfield Township, and Metro Skyline in Fairfield Township.

According to the state’s complaint, Manheim sold 214 vehicles in New Jersey from December 2, 2016 to March 15, 2019 that were explicitly advertised as having tampered pollution controls. Listings for those vehicles included tags like “ALTERED EMISSIONS,” “NO CAT” and “EGR DELETE.”

“NO CAT” appears to be a reference to catalytic converters, while “EGR DELETE” refers to the removal of exhaust gas recirculation features in diesel engines. Removing these two features from a diesel vehicle can cause that vehicle to produce 20 times more nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, according to the state.

And the state warns that the actual number of tampered vehicles sold could’ve been much higher. During a surprise inspection of the Mansfield facility on February 25, 2019, DEP officials found 28% — 14 of 50 — of inspected vehicles were tampered with.

During the time period of the investigation, Manheim sold 850,000 vehicles at its two New Jersey locations.

“I’m proud to once again announce bold actions against irresponsible polluters, the result of years of hard investigative work to uncover rampant violations of New Jersey’s environmental laws,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

“Environmental protection is directly tied to the public’s health, including for environmental justice communities. Tampered vehicles in particular release harmful air emissions that affect our residents’ well-being, but national companies like Manheim refuse to protect our residents from this problem. Today, companies and dealerships across the state are on notice: we will hold accountable anyone in New Jersey who seeks to profit through the sale of these unlawful, polluting vehicles.”

In a statement to NJ Advance Media, Manheim expressed surprise that the lawsuit had been filed.

“Manheim has been aware of this matter since 2019 and has been working collaboratively with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on their investigation,” Manheim said. “In fact, we have voluntarily put in place certain measures to assist them with their compliance efforts, so we are totally surprised and taken aback by the lawsuit that came without advance warning and includes allegations that we have not been cooperative.”

Also named in the lawsuit are three car dealers — Murphy’s Motors in Fairview, Fargo Auto Sales & Services in Delran and Rezzetti Enterprises in Vineland — which the state claims repeatedly sold or attempted to sell vehicles with tampered emissions controls through Manheim.

Murphy’s Motors declined to comment for this story.

Calls to numbers listed for both Fargo Auto Sales and Rezzetti Enterprises went unanswered. Fargo Auto Sales is listed as “permanently closed” on Google.

The state’s lawsuit asks for a court order to force Manheim to take steps to stop the sale of tampered vehicles in its auctions. The lawsuit also seeks fines for Manheim, Murphy Motors, Fargo Auto Sales and Rezzetti Enterprises under the Air Pollution Control Act. That law allows for fines of up to $10,000 for first-time offenders, $25,000 for second offenses and $50,000 for each subsequent offense.

Beyond the lawsuit, the AG’s office — through the Division of Consumer Affairs — issued violations to eight different used car dealerships around the state that bought diesel vehicles with tampered emissions controls from Manheim, then unlawfully resold those vehicles or advertised them for sale. Each of those violations carries a $1,500 fine.

“By filing Notices of Violations against these dealerships, the Division of Consumer Affairs is sending a clear message that we will not permit the sale of dangerous, unlawful vehicles in the state,” Paul R. Rodríguez, the acting director of DCA, said. “New Jersey motor vehicle dealerships have a responsibility to ensure that their vehicles comply with all environmental law. We cannot allow businesses to take advantage of consumers and undermine public health and safety.”

Vehicle emissions are the largest source of air pollution in New Jersey, with cars and trucks spewing NOx — a key ingredient for smog — and fine particle pollution (PM2.5) as they burn diesel and gasoline.

Environmental justice communities — low-income communities, typically made up of people of color, that are more burdened by pollution — are at particular risk from vehicle pollution because they are frequently near highways or industrial areas with heavy traffic.

The coronavirus has placed a new spotlight on air pollution’s health effects. A recent study by Harvard researchers found that people in communities exposed to long-term air pollution were at higher risk of dying from the disease. Climate change is expected to worsen the health effects of air pollution.

“When someone intentionally tampers with emissions controls, they are not just cheating the market—they are cheating our environment and the health of our communities,” DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said. “Whether facilitated by a vehicle manufacturer, dealer, reseller, auctioneer, or repair shop, emissions tampering is intolerable.”

Gov. Phil Murphy has taken steps to replace dirty diesel engines and get more New Jerseyans driving electric cars as a way to cut down on vehicle pollution.

In April, the state announced that it would commit new revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to help reduce vehicle pollution. The DEP is continuing to distribute settlement money it got from suing Volkswagen over the German carmaker’s emissions scandal to replace outdated diesel engines.

And in January, Murphy signed a new law that offers up to $5,000 in incentives for New Jerseyans who buy an electric car.

But last month, Murphy gave final approval for a plan to expand sections of the Turnpike, Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway. Environmental groups have slammed the expansion as an invitation to put more cars on the road, threatening to worsen tailpipe emissions.

Read the state’s full complaint here.

Read the DCA’s notices of violations here.

Article Retrieved From New Jersey Advance Media

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