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Harley-Davidson dealerships accused in civil suit of air, noise pollution violations

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 9, 2022
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A used Harley-Davidson motorcycle allegedly equipped with air pollution "defeat" devices.
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A Harley-Davidson motorcycle allegedly equipped with air pollution "defeat" devices.

An environmental group that won a Clean Air Act violations lawsuit over the Diesel Brothers reality TV stars has now taken aim at another alleged source of illegal pollution: the Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealerships along the Wasatch Front.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment nonprofit asks that civil monetary penalties be assessed and orders issued enjoining the dealerships from violating the Clean Air Act. Unlike in the Diesel Brothers case, the suit against the motorcycle dealerships also cites alleged violations of the Noise Control Act.

Under federal law, citizen enforcement actions may be sought by individuals or groups against alleged air and noise polluters that have not been subject to diligent enforcement of the environmental laws by state or federal authorities.

The doctors’ suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on July 18, alleged that violations include the removal of air and noise emission control devices in motorcycles; the sale and installation of aftermarket parts that defeat air and noise emission controls; and the ownership, operation and sale of new and used motorcycles without all of their required air emission and noise controls present and functioning as designed.

Defendants are Harley-Davidson of Salt Lake City, the South Valley Harley-Davidson Shop in Sandy, Golden Spike Harley-Davidson in Riverdale, Saddleback Harley-Davidson in Logan, and owner and corporate officer Joseph L. Timmons Jr.

In an answer to the suit filed Aug. 10, attorneys for the dealerships and Timmons denied the allegations, saying their conduct has been reasonable and proper and that they “did not directly or indirectly undertake any action in violation of the law.” The defendants said they relied in good faith upon representations by suppliers that products were emissions and noise compliant.

Timmons, reached at his office Friday, declined to comment on the allegations or the litigation.

The move against the Harley-Davidson dealers is at least the third such case brought by the doctors’ group in recent years. The group in 2017 sued individuals and corporate entities surrounding the Diesel Brothers, who sell customized pickup trucks in Woods Cross and online. In 2021, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Diesel Brothers principal David Sparks and other defendants had committed 400 Clean Air Act violations involving emission control devices being removed or modified, providing more volume and power in the trucks but dramatically increasing their pollution output.

Shelby in March 2020 ordered the defendants to pay more than $700,000 in penalties and $900,000 in attorneys’ fees. The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last December upheld the doctors’ group’s standing to enforce the Clean Air Act violations, but told Shelby to review the penalties and legal fees. Hearings on those matters continue. However, in July, Shelby ordered the Diesel Brothers defendants to pay the doctors’ group another $90,000 for legal costs in defending the appeal.

The physicians also sued TAP Worldwide, operator of 4 Wheel Parts Performance Centers in Ogden and Salt Lake City, on similar grounds, alleging they market and sell vehicle emission defeat devices to individual vehicle customers. That litigation, filed in 2019, is ongoing.

In the Harley-Davidson case, the physicians alleged the dealerships repeatedly removed catalytic converters and electronic emission control settings in motorcycles and sold or installed aftermarket exhaust systems or parts that do not have catalytic converters. Full systems replace a motorcycle’s entire manufacturer exhaust system, including mufflers, header pipes, combiner junctions and any catalytic converters in that system. So-called “slip-on” exhaust parts replace any manufacturer catalytic converters within the muffler assembly.

Motorcycle exhaust contributes to and prolongs the poor air quality in Utah that has been linked to serious diseases that range from short-term increased rates of heart attacks, strokes and death to long-term neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, the suit said.

The group said it has filed Clean Air Act citizen cases because federal and state clean air laws and regulations have been inadequately enforced by the relevant government agencies, the very rationale envisioned for citizen enforcement actions.

Motorcycles with aftermarket exhaust systems blast at least twice as much noise as they should, easily exceeding the U.S. Noise Control Act limit of 80 decibels, the doctors’ suit asserted. The aftermarket bikes roar through Utah’s cities, towns and national parks, subjecting people to “loud and gratuitous” noise damaging to health, the suit said.

The physicians asked the court to order the defendants to pay up to $100,000 for emission mitigation projects, monetary penalties to the U.S. Treasury for each violation and attorney’s fees.


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