Sustainability Environment

Tesla to pay penalty for Clean Air Act violations

Automaker Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory is pictured in a drone photo on Thursday, March 11, 2021. Noah Berger/ AP

Story at a glance

  • The Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with Tesla Motors Inc.
  • The agency said Tesla violated multiple rules under the Clean Air Act.
  • Tesla agreed to pay a $275,000 penalty.

Electric car maker Tesla allowed hazardous chemicals to be emitted from its factory, violating the federal Clean Air Act, and has come to a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Tesla agreed to pay a $275,000 penalty after the EPA found the company’s Fremont, Calif., manufacturing plant violated multiple Clean Air Act regulations, known as National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Surface Coating of Automobiles and Light-Duty Trucks, from October 2016 through September 2019. 

In an announcement on Tuesday, the EPA said Tesla failed to develop or implement a plan to minimize hazardous air pollutants emissions from storage and when mixing materials used in vehicle coating. Those chemicals included formaldehyde, ethylbenzene, naphthalene and xylene — all of which the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry says can cause eye, nose and throat irritation at low levels. At higher levels of exposure, people can experience skin rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing and changes in lung function. 

Tesla also failed to correctly perform the required monthly emissions calculations needed to demonstrate that the facility’s coating operations were compliant with federal standards. 


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The EPA also cited Tesla for not collecting and keeping all required documents and records associated with calculating hazardous air pollutants emission rate for the company’s coating operations. 

“Today’s enforcement action against Tesla reflects continued commitment to ensure compliance with federal clean air laws. EPA takes seriously every company’s obligation to safeguard our environment and protect our most vulnerable communities,” said Martha Guzman, EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator. 

This isn’t the first time Tesla has been in hot water with the EPA. The agency fined the electric car maker $31,000 in 2019 over separate violations of federal hazardous waste rules. The company was also required to buy $55,000 in emergency response equipment for the City of Fremont Fire Department. 

Tesla is also facing an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over Tesla drivers reporting issues where their car automatically hits the brakes due to nonexistent issues, like incoming cars on two-lane roads. NHTSA said it’s received at least 107 reports about the phantom breaking. 


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