SALT LAKE CITY — The Diesel Brothers and an environmental group are in settlement talks over penalties the truck makers will pay for selling vehicles with “defeat” devices to circumvent pollution controls.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled in March the Woods Cross companies owned by the Discovery Channel TV reality show stars are subject to civil penalties under the federal Clean Air Act.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment had filed a civil enforcement action after seeing the Diesel Brothers’ smoke-billowing modified diesel rigs on TV roaring around the Wasatch Front.
The doctors sought to stop the truck sales and obtain a $100,000 judgment to go toward clean air programs.
Shelby ruled three Diesel Brothers owners and top employees were liable for selling trucks with the defeat devices. That set the stage for the current settlement talks, which are aimed at forestalling a scheduled November trial.
“The parties met with mediators for eight hours, and resolution was not reached but progress was made,” the Diesel Brothers’ attorney, Cole Cannon, said Thursday of a recent settlement meeting.
Shelby on Wednesday assigned Magistrate Paul Warner to hold a settlement hearing in court to further the progress.
“The parties are actively talking, and I hope we can agree on something that benefits both the environment and keeps perspective about the actual impact (of the pollution caused),” Cannon said. “My gripe all along has been that this is over 17 trucks.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must sign off on any settlement.
Because of that, such settlements typically involve discussions about the penalized party performing “a reclamation project for the environment,” plus potential monetary penalties payable to the EPA, Cannon said.
As an example of a clean air project, some programs have worked to replace wood-burning stoves, he said.
“I have spoken with the EPA and my sense is they are more concerned with what good we can do,” Cannon said. “We have some great ideas, and the nice thing is, the Diesel Brothers have a megaphone with a broad impact.”
For instance, the TV stars might be able to reach truck owners with a cleaner-diesel campaign, Cannon said.
Reed Zars, an attorney representing the doctors’ group, said settlement items may include requirements for the Diesel Brothers’ to undo all the pollution-causing truck modifications they performed and to perform “other measures to protect the air on the Wasatch Front.”
The question of a monetary penalty’s also still on the table, Zars said.
Warner has yet to set a date for the settlement hearing.
“Heavy D” Sparks and his Diesel Brothers friends buy diesel trucks, modify them at Sparks Motors in Davis County (registered as B&W Motors), then sell them on DieselSellerz.com.
The doctors’ group cited documentation of the damage that particulate pollution from diesel exhaust has caused in people, including some of its members who provided case studies of pollution-caused illnesses.
Trucks with defeat devices “emit 30 or more times the emissions of stock trucks,” Zars said. “It only takes 1 or 2 percent of the fleet to double the emissions there on the Front. This is not an insignificant issue at all.”