Oct 17, 2023

Ebay faces up to $2 billion in fines over selling "rolling coal" devices

By Kate Gibson

October 16, 2023 / 5:22 PM / MoneyWatch

Ebay may have to cough up as much as $2 billion in fines for allegedly allowing the distribution and sale of hundreds of thousands of products that significantly increase pollution spewing from diesel pickup trucks.

The e-commerce giant is accused of letting more than 343,000 aftermarket "rolling coal" devices — made to neutralize motor vehicle emission controls — be sold through its platform in violation of the Clean Air Act, according to a Justice Department complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court.

EBay sold the products between November 2015 and January 2023, with each device that was sold subject to a $5,580 fine, the federal agency said in its lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Products that override autos' emissions controls are used to boost a diesel truck's power and to enable it to spew a plume of black exhaust in what's known as a "roll coal." Some drivers seemingly use the devices as an anti-environmental protest of sorts, targeting electric or hybrid vehicles like Teslas and Priuses or bicyclists.

According to the EPA, coal rolling is a major source of air pollution because of the nitrogen oxide released into the air. Exposure to exhaust fumes also puts people at risk of developing respiratory troubles such as asthma and bronchitis, research has shown.

The EPA also claims eBay unlawfully sold at least 23,000 pesticide products, including a high toxicity insecticide banned in the U.S., and over 5,600 products containing methylene chloride, also a toxic chemical.

"Laws that prohibit selling products that can severely harm human health and the environment apply to e-commerce retailers like eBay just as they do to brick-and-mortar stores," Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a Sept. 27 statement announcing the suit against eBay. "We are committed to preventing the unlawful sale and distribution of emissions-defeating devices and dangerous chemicals that, if used improperly, can lead to dire consequences for individuals and communities."

Ebay called the government's unprecedented and vowed to defend itself. The company is already "blocking and removing more than 99.9% of the listings for the products cited by the DOJ, including millions of listings each year," the online retailer said in a statement.

The company said it cooperates with law enforcement in trying to prevent third-parties from selling dangerous or illegal products on its platform.

"And eBay has partnered closely with law enforcement, including the DOJ, for over two decades on identifying emerging risks and assisting with prevention and enforcement."

California parts maker Sinister Mfg. Co. pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to pay $1 million in fines for tampering with the monitoring device of an emissions control system of a diesel truck, the Justice Department said in August. The company sold nearly 40,000 defeat devices, including at least 35,960 kits that disable vehicles' exhaust gas recirculation systems, according to the agency.

First published on October 16, 2023 / 5:22 PM

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