Columbus-based engine maker Cummins Inc. must complete a nationwide recall of 600,000 Ram trucks as part of a settlement with federal and California authorities that also requires the company to remedy environmental damage caused by illegal software that let it skirt diesel emissions tests.
IBJ first reported on the proposed settlement on Dec. 22. The DOJ released several new details on Wednesday.
In the proposed settlement, Cummins agreed to a $1.675 billion civil penalty to settle claims—the largest ever secured under the Clean Air Act—plus $325 million for pollution remedies.
That brings Cummins’ total penalty to more than $2 billion, which officials from the Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board and the 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 heavy duty pickup trucks—manufactured by Stellantis—had Cummins diesel engines equipped with software that limited nitrogen oxide pollution during emissions tests but allowed higher pollution during normal operations, the governments alleged.
In all, about 630,000 pickups from the 2013 through 2019 model years were equipped with the so-called “defeat devices” and will be recalled. Roughly 330,000 more trucks from 2019 through 2023 had emissions control software that wasn’t properly reported to authorities, but the government says those didn’t disable emissions controls. Officials could not estimate how many of the recalled trucks remain on the road.
Stellantis deferred comment on the case to Cummins, which has denied allegations made by the government and is not admitting liability, according to court documents.
According to the DOJ, the settlement requires Cummins to work with truck dealers on a vehicle recall and repair program that will remove all defeat devices from the affected 2013-2019 RAM trucks free of charge and bring the vehicles into compliance with applicable emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.
The repair only involves software updates. Cummins has already started the recall and repair program required by the settlement.
The engine maker 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 were cited but are not being recalled did not exceed emissions limits. Punishment for the unreported software is included in the penalty, the company said.
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 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 of the 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 harmful to human health; it’s a carcinogen. Long-term exposure to ozone-creating nitrogen oxides can cause health issues like respiratory infections, lung disease, and asthma.