A recent lawsuit has exposed a Woods Cross-based reality TV group’s alleged air-polluting antics, as well as gaps in enforcing laws meant to clear Utah smog.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed suit last week against hosts of the Discovery Channel show “Diesel Brothers” David W. “Heavy D” Sparks, David “Diesel Dave” Kiley, Joshua “Redbeard” Stuart and Keaton “The Muscle” Hoskins. The suit also names their Utah-based companies DIESELSellerz.com LLC, 4x4 Anything LLC and Sparks Motors LLC.
The suit claims the reality show stars violated both the federal Clean Air Act and Utah State Implementation Plan by selling and installing emissions defeat devices, as well as selling, building and driving trucks that blow polluting smoke.
Photos and videos that show the TV and online personalities driving trucks that blow smoke are pervasive on their YouTube and social media pages.
The “Diesel Brothers” group operates in a county with a rigorous diesel emissions testing program and in a state charged with improving some of the worst air quality in the nation. However, it took a local environmental watchdog group to bring action against the group. That’s because there’s a large gray area that falls between vehicle manufacturing and ownership.
“There are two ways vehicle emissions are enforced,” said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality. “One is if a (defeat) device is discovered during inspection by the county emissions program. The other way is through the EPA.”
The EPA, or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mostly does enforcement on the manufacturing end. They’re the agency that brought action last year against Volkswagen for building diesel cars with defeat devices on their emissions controls.
The EPA also takes action against companies that manufacture parts designed to alter a vehicle’s emissions controls. In 2013, for example, the agency brought a civil penalty against Ogden-based Edge Products LLC for building electronic devices that reprogrammed trucks’ computers so they could blow smoke without the “check engine” light illuminating.
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At the same time, county agencies like the Davis County Health Department are charged with making sure vehicle owners meet certain emissions requirements before they can register in the county. Gas-powered vehicles must have emissions tests in non-attainment counties where air pollution is above federal limits. Counties decide whether or not to include diesel-powered vehicles in their emissions program.
Davis County has one of the most rigorous diesel emissions programs in the state.
“There are a number of companies and people who tamper with vehicles all the time,” said Dennis Keith, the county director for environmental health. “Our program is designed to catch those vehicles and fail those vehicles.”
Companies like those owned by the “Diesel Brothers” TV personalities, however, act as a sort of middle man. They don’t manufacture the diesel defeat devices. They also don’t appear to register any of their allegedly tampered vehicles with Davis County, so they’re not being tested and caught.
“Even if it’s been modified in our county, it doesn’t mean it’s registered in our county,” Keith said.
And if someone bought a modified truck and tried to register it in Davis County, enforcement would still be on the vehicle’s owner, not on the “Diesel Brothers” group, health department officials said.
Only Davis County, Salt Lake County, Cache Cache County and, as of this month, Weber County have diesel emissions testing programs. That leaves 25 other counties in the state for tampered vehicle owners to register. That can create an enforcement nightmare.
“Having separate I/M (vehicle inspection/maintenance) programs across counties can be difficult,” Keith said. “The more we get other counties on board, I think it helps everybody.”
The Clean Air Act allows citizen groups like Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment sue parties violating its mandates. That allows for some type of enforcement among distributors like the “Diesel Brothers” personalities.
“My take legally and politically is this (lawsuit) isn’t necessarily an indication of a shortcoming or failure on the part of the federal government or the state to do enforcement,” said Reed Zars, an attorney representing Utah Physicians in the suit. “It was always acknowledged that in order to enforce (environmental) law ... citizens were also have to be engaged.”
The Utah Legislature also tried to tap citizens to address a growing problem with tampered vehicles and coal rollers in 2015. Lawmakers granted counties the authority to revoke registration for smoking cars and trucks when residents reported them more than once or provided photo and video evidence. The effectiveness of that provision so far, however is up for debate.
The Davis County Health Department recently received a complaint about a smoking vehicle pulling onto the “Diesel Brothers’” shop property in Woods Cross, Keith said, but the accuser wasn’t able to get a license plate number.
“So far, there’s no substantiated evidence to take action on those vehicles,” Keith said.
Still, county and state officials expressed their concerns about the activities alleged in the recent lawsuit.
“I think any organization that’s tampering with vehicles is a concern to us,” Keith said. “Emissions (regulations) are important, and it’s important for them to not pollute. We’re going to try to catch every tampered vehicle we can.”
At the state level, Bird also noted the complications inconsistent county emissions policies present. But regardless of local policies, any truck or car seen blowing black smoke is a sign the vehicle isn’t operating up to snuff.
“A properly operated consumer diesel truck should not have any visible emissions. If they do, they’ve done something to alter it,” he said. “Even properly operating motor vehicles are responsible for about half air pollution that impacts us during winter inversions, so if someone is purposely tampering with emissions controls ... that increases the burden of air pollution we all have to deal with.”