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DOJ sues eBay for selling ‘rolling coal’ devices; fines could hit $2 billion

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F-450 coal rolling
Courtesy: Salvatore Arnone | Wikipedia CC

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Rolling coal is the practice of installing a tampering device to pump more diesel into a vehicle’s engine than it can handle, leading it to spew out sooty black clouds of exhaust that pollute the air.

The practice is sometimes used as a form of anti-environmental protest. Coal rollers, or the drivers who engage in the action, may intentionally target Teslas, Priuses or other electric or hybrid vehicles.

The Department of Justice, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, filed a lawsuit claiming that the e-commerce giant enabled the sale of more than 343,000 rolling coal devices. Each sale could spur a fine of up to $5,580 under the Clean Air Act.

Ebay denied the charges in a public statement, saying it has blocked “more than 99.9% the listings for the products cited by the DOJ, including millions of listings each year.”

“And eBay has partnered closely with law enforcement, including the DOJ, for over two decades on identifying emerging risks and assisting with prevention and enforcement,” the online retailer said.

The DOJ’s 61-page complaint included screenshots of emissions tampering devices that were listed on eBay’s platform.

Rolling coal devices are among several tools that can be used to disable or tamper with a vehicle’s pre-installed emissions control systems, which the EPA requires of all vehicles.

Under the Clean Air Act, tampering with a vehicle’s emissions control systems and selling those tampering tools are illegal. Only some states, like New Jersey, Maryland and Maine, have banned the practice in their own jurisdictions.

In addition to rolling coal products, prosecutors argue that eBay allowed the sale of more than 5,600 dangerous methylene chloride paint removers and at least 23,000 prohibited pesticide products, both of which the EPA banned for their safety hazards.

“eBay has the power, the authority, and the resources to stop the sale of these illegal, harmful products on its website. It has chosen not to,” prosecutors said in the filing.

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