By Nathalie Voit
Tesla and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a settlement on Feb. 22 after the automaker was found to have violated the Clean Air Act at its vehicle assembly facility in Fremont, California, the agency announced in a news release on Tuesday.
According to the announcement, Tesla breached a federal clean air law known as the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Surface Coating of Automobiles and Light-Duty Trucks from October 2016 through September 2019.
Tesla agreed to pay a penalty of $275,000 under the settlement.
“The penalty was calculated using EPA’s Clean Air Act Civil Penalty Policy and the relevant facts of the matter (number and type of violations). The size of the violator is considered under EPA’s penalty policy as well,” a representative for the EPA told CNBC on Tuesday.
The EPA said Elon Musk’s trillion-dollar electric vehicle company “failed to develop and/or implement a work practice plan to minimize hazardous air pollutants emissions from the storage and mixing of materials used in vehicle coating operations.”
The EPA also said Tesla failed to carry out its required monthly emissions calculations from its coating operations, in addition to failing to store and keep all legally required records necessary to confirm its hazardous air-pollutants emission rates.
“Today’s enforcement action against Tesla reflects EPA’s continued commitment to ensure compliance with federal clean air laws,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman.
“EPA takes seriously every company’s obligation to safeguard our environment and protect our most vulnerable communities,” Guzman added, noting that Tesla’s Clean Air Act violations potentially harmed individuals living near the source of those toxic air pollutants.
The news comes amid an international probe by German regulators of Tesla’s Autopilot feature.
The Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, the Federal Motor Transport Authority in Germany, is reportedly investigating whether Tesla’s Autopilot “upgrade” is safe for use on German roads, according to Bild am Sonntag, a German newspaper.
The agency is in contact with Netherland’s vehicle agency RDW, which is responsible for approving vehicles on a European scale.
The Austin-based carmaker’s automated driving technology has been the source of much scrutiny after user reports of “phantom braking” at high speeds were reported worldwide in the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles from 2021-22.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also launched a probe into the semi-autonomous technology following a series of near-fatal crashes that occurred while drivers were using the Autopilot driver assistance system (ADAS).
“The complaints allege that while utilising the ADAS features including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds,” the NHTSA report, filed on Feb. 16, said. “Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”
The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) “is opening this preliminary evaluation to determine the scope and severity of the potential problem and to fully assess the potential safety-related issues,” the report stated.