TAMPA — Hillsborough County plans to sue the parent company of Mercedes-Benz contending its cheating on emission tests increased air pollution locally.
The Hillsborough Commission, sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission, authorized the legal action Thursday morning. It follows a similar county lawsuit filed against Volkswagen in 2016. That suit is pending in federal court.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California announced a $1.5 billion settlement with Mercedes-Benz parent company, Daimler AG, over allegations of emissions cheating involving the company’s diesel vehicles.
Under the settlement, subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval, Daimler must recall and repair the emissions systems in Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. between 2009 and 2016. It must pay $945 million in penalties; extend the warranty for vehicle parts, do mitigation work to reduce ozone-creating nitrogen oxides emitted from the vehicles, and implement new internal audit procedures. The recall and mitigation are expected to cost the company $436 million. The company also will pay $110 million for mitigation work in California, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The settlement addresses allegations in civil complaints that Daimler produced more than 250,000 diesel Sprinter vans and passenger cars with undisclosed devices programmed into the vehicles' emissions control software. These so-called defeat devices allow the vehicles to produce compliant emission test results. However, outside the test controls, the vehicles generated higher nitrogen oxide levels that exceeded federal standards.
"This vehicle tampering leads to additional air pollution within the county,'' stated an agenda item to the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission from its legal staff. The commission unanimously authorized the legal action without comment.
The county’s claim stems from one of the Environmental Protection Commission’s rules prohibiting anyone from tampering with the emission control system of a vehicle. Until the Volkswagen scandal, the rule, which dates to 1987, rarely had been invoked.
in 2016, the commission authorized a similar suit against Volkswagen, which had admitted to installing software that allowed its diesel cars to pass emission inspections even though its vehicles emitted 40 times the greenhouse gases allowed under federal law. An estimated 580,000 cars sold in the United States were affected including 1,200 in Hillsborough.
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The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California originally dismissed the county’s complaint in 2018, But the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated part of the case in June and said allegations surrounding tampering of vehicles after they were sold could continue. Last month, the court declined Volkswagen’s request for a rehearing.
That case, as well as the complaint against Daimler, are being handled by the Alabama-based from Beasley Allen, as well as two local firms, Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort and the law office of Thomas L. Young. The approval from the Environmental Protection Commission also allows its executive director and the outside legal team to pursue future litigation against other automobile manufacturers, if warranted.
The suit against Daimler is expected to be filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The number of affected Mercedes Benz vehicles in Hillsborough County is still being compiled, Rick Muratti, Environmental Protection Commission attorney said Wednesday.