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Two California firms agree to settle violations after illegal import of vehicles

According to the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (ARB), two Los Angeles-based consulting firms, MotorScience Inc., and MotorScience Enterprise Inc., and their owner, Chi Zheng, have agreed to settle alleged Clean Air Act (CAA) violations stemming from the illegal import of 24,478 all-terrain, recreational vehicles into the U.S. from China without testing to ensure emissions would meet applicable limits on harmful air pollution.

MotorScience and Zheng have agreed to have a stipulated judgment entered against them for a $3.55 million civil penalty and to pay an additional $60,000 civil penalty within 6 months. The United States will receive 80 percent of collected penalties, and California will receive the remaining 20 percent.

“Vehicles and engines that are manufactured overseas and sold in the U.S. must meet the same Clean Air standards as domestically-made products,” said Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The settlement also requires that for the next 15 years, before either MotorScience or Zheng may engage in any further work involving non-road vehicles and engines, they must follow a rigorous compliance plan to ensure that any emissions testing and certification applications submitted to EPA or the ARB accurately represent those vehicles and engines. Non-road vehicles and engines include recreational vehicles, generators, lawn and garden equipment, and other non-road internal combustion engines.

EPA’s investigation showed that MotorScience obtained EPA certificates of conformity for numerous vehicles without conducting required emissions testing. As alleged in separate complaints filed in federal district court by the United States and the state of California in September 2011, MotorScience arranged for emissions testing of a limited number of vehicles, and then reused those results to obtain certificates of conformity for numerous other, dissimilar vehicles. For at least three of those vehicles, EPA confirmed that their emissions exceeded the federal limits for hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.

MotorScience and its president, Zheng, provide consulting services for vehicle manufacturers and other clients interested in obtaining certificates of conformity from EPA to allow import of their vehicles into the U.S. In 2010, EPA voided 12 certificates held by 4 of the defendants’ clients, who were U.S.-based importers for Chinese recreational vehicle manufacturers. The complaints filed by the U.S. and California alleged that defendants caused four of their clients to illegally import vehicles under federal certificates and California executive orders that were voided. The complaints further alleged that defendants caused their clients to fail to create and maintain required records on emissions testing.

The CAA prohibits any vehicle or engine from being imported into or sold in the United States unless it is covered by a valid, EPA-issued certificate of conformity demonstrating that the vehicle or engine meets applicable federal emission standards. The CAA also prohibits any actions that cause the importation of uncertified vehicles or that cause recordkeeping violations. Similarly, the California Health and Safety Code prohibits any vehicle or engine from being distributed or sold in California, unless such vehicle or engine is covered by a valid, ARB-issued executive order demonstrating that the vehicle or engine meets applicable California emission standards.

The certificate of conformity is the primary way EPA ensures that vehicles and engines meet emission standards. This enforcement action is part of an ongoing effort by EPA to ensure that all imported vehicles and engines comply with the CAA’s requirements.