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EPA Accuses Fiat Chrysler of Using Hidden, Polluting Software

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 12, 2017 2:40 PM

Fiat Chrysler installed 'engine management' software on more than 100,000 of its diesel vehicles, allowing them to release increased pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The software was installed on 2014, 2015, and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks, the EPA says, and resulted in extra emissions of nitrogen oxide, a toxic pollutant and one of the main contributors to smog.

The accusations harken back to Volkswagen's emissions fraud, which was discovered in September 2015. There, Volkswagen used "defeat devices" to evade emissions test, allowing its "clean diesel" cars to otherwise emit illegal levels of pollution.

Reminiscent of Volkswagen, but Perhaps Not the Same

The EPA's announcement does not say that Fiat Chrysler's "engine management" software was designed to evade emissions test like Volkswagen's defeat devices were. Nor does it say exactly how Fiat Chrysler's software worked. Instead, the EPA only alleges that the software was undisclosed and that it "resulted in increased emissions".

Under the Clean Air Act, auto makers must demonstrate compliance with federal emissions standards. During that certification process, "automakers are required to disclose and explain any software, known as auxiliary emission control devices, that can alter how a vehicle emits air pollution," according to the EPA. Fiat Chrysler's software was not disclosed and thus violated the Clean Air Act, the agency says. The agency found eight pieces of undisclosed software in total, it says.

The agency is still investigating whether the software constituted defeat devices.

Beware the Clean Air Act

Violations of the Clean Air Act can have significant consequences, as more and more companies are learning. Violations such as those Fiat Chrysler is accused of can result in civil fines of $44,539 per violation, as well as criminal charges.

Just look at Volkswagen. The company is set to pay a $4.3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice, which will involve pleading guilty to criminal charges. So far, the company has paid $20 billion as a result of the fraud.

And that doesn't include the criminal cases. One of VW's chief compliance officers was arrested this past weekend. He is now one of six executives facing criminal prosecution for their role in the emissions fraud scandal, charges that federal prosecutors announced yesterday.

Volkswagen still faces a myriad of civil lawsuits.

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