Department of Justice reduces Harley-Davidson’s pollution fine by $3 million

The fine was part of an Obama-era settlement for selling motorcycle tuners that increased air pollution.

CREDIT: Photo by Darren Hauck/Invision for Harley-Davidson/AP Images
CREDIT: Photo by Darren Hauck/Invision for Harley-Davidson/AP Images

The Trump administration’s Department of Justice has dropped a $3 million penalty imposed on the motorcycle company Harley-Davidson by the Obama administration, citing “certain new developments” in the department’s policy.

The fine was part of a larger $15-million air pollution settlement reached between Harley-Davidson and the Obama administration last year. The government complaint alleged that Harley-Davidson had sold illegal motorcycle tuners that caused bikes to emit higher amounts of air pollutants than allowed by EPA emissions standards.

The tuners allowed the motorcycles to emit higher levels of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide, which can react with volatile organic compounds to create ozone pollution. Nitrogen oxide also contributes to fine particle pollution, the kind of pollution small enough to enter into human lungs. These compounds are known to have detrimental impacts on public health, including increased asthma attacks, and are especially dangerous for children and the elderly.

As part of the settlement, Harley-Davidson agreed to pay $3 million to an American Lung Association project that replaced conventional woodstoves with cleaner burning stoves in vulnerable communities.

“Certain new developments led the United States and the defendant to agree to revise the consent decree in this manner,” the Department of Justice announced Thursday. “The original consent decree would have required defendants to pay a non-governmental third-party organization to carry out the mitigation project. Questions exist as to whether this mitigation project is consistent with the new policy.”

The announcement follows an order issued last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which directed DOJ attorneys to no longer use third-party pollution mitigation projects as part of settlements for polluters.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has undermined the Justice Department’s role in prosecuting environmental crimes. Trump nominated an attorney who was part of the legal team that defended BP after the 2010 Gulf Oil spill to be the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, a role that would make him the department’s lead attorney in charge of enforcing environmental laws.