A North Kingstown business owner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Air Act in U.S. District Court in Providnce on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy of United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island.)
PROVIDENCE — The owner of a North Kingstown-based trucking company pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Monday to conspiracy charges related to violating the Clean Air Act.
Under the federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established standards that limit the emission of air pollutants from various types of vehicle engines. To meet those standards, vehicle manufacturers design and install certain hardware components as part of the systems that manage and treat engine exhaust to reduce multiple types of pollution.
Between 2014 and 2019, the U.S. Justice Department said Michael J. Collins, his company, M&D Transportation Inc., and his now-defunct computer company, Diesel Tune-Ups of RI Inc. tampered with on-board computers to delete emission controls from semi trucks. These alterations are known as “tunes.”
Also involved in the scheme were various trucking and diesel vehicle sales and repair companies throughout the country, along with a foreign national.
“Our environmental laws are here to protect the clean air that every Rhode Islander deserves to breathe,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha said in a statement.
“When companies choose to ignore those laws and put profit over their legal duties, and spew diesel soot and contaminants across Rhode Island and New England in the process, this office will hold them to account.”
When tuning was done through a laptop, Collins instructed client companies to call the foreign national for further instructions, and through remote connection, the “tunes” were then downloaded onto each vehicle to reprogram the monitoring systems.
According to court documents, customers paid Collins’ companies between $1,700 and $3,650 for each vehicle tuned Collins and his companies would then wire a portion of the funds to the foreign co-conspirator.
In exchange for a fee, the foreign national downloaded tuning software through a laptop computer, which was provided by Collins and his companies. This business was marketed on Facebook with claims that it provided increased power, better fuel mileage, and offered related emission control equipment.
Tunes tampered with the vehicle’s monitoring systems so that they would not detect malfunctions in the emission control components, thereby allowing vehicles to operate without proper emission controls.
Compared to other trucks, tuned vehicles could run with increased horsepower and torque, which can reduce maintenance and repair costs, but results in significant increases in pollutant emissions — namely diesel exhaust.
Diesel exhaust is known to contain a variety of air pollutants identified as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department notes.
“Tampering with diesel vehicles by installing defeat devices increases emissions of smog and soot, both of which contribute to serious health problems that often disproportionately affect families, especially children, living in underserved communities,” stated Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge for EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for New England. “Placing profit over public health in Rhode Island has clear accountability.”
Collins is scheduled to be sentenced on July 10.
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