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Cummins to pay record-setting civil penalty for ‘defeat devices’ in pickup truck engines

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Business, Government, Law, Statewide News
This Ram Dually Case Work Truck has a RAM 3500 Cummins diesel engine. Cummins allegedly installed emissions “defeat devices” on more than 900,000 RAM 2500 and 3500 engines in the past decade. (Joe Wilssens, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles/Flickr)

Cummins will pay the largest civil penalty in Clean Air Act history for allegedly installing emissions “defeat devices” on hundreds of thousands of pickup truck engines. The news comes as a surprise for a company known for environmental stewardship.

Cummins allegedly installed emissions “defeat devices” on more than 900,000 RAM 2500 and 3500 engines in the past decade. The more than $1.6 billion civil penalty is even larger than the one Volkswagen paid in 2017 for similar violations — though Volkswagen also faced criminal charges.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Cummins’ cheat devices have had a significant, harmful impact on people’s health and safety.

“Our preliminary estimates suggest that defeat devices on some Cummins engines have caused them to produce thousands of tons of excess emissions of nitrogen oxides. The cascading effect of those pollutants can, over long-term exposure, lead to breathing issues like asthma and respiratory infections,” he said.

Jon Mills is Cummins’ director of global brand and external communications. He said these so-called “defeat devices” are actually just a defect with the company’s auxiliary emissions control devices — something many engines have.

Mills said the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board discovered the problem in 2019 during the certification process.

“We’ve seen no evidence that anyone had acted in bad faith and, of course, no wrongdoing. The fact is, we’ve been working collaboratively over the last four and a half years with the agencies to resolve this matter,” he said.

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The company already recalled the 2019 model engines and has started recalling models 2013 through 2018.

Cummins aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. Mills said the company has invested $1 billion in clean technologies at its U.S. plants.

This story has been updated.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.