Tesla Faces Lawsuit for Over 100 Clean Air Act Violations: Is the Fremont Factory Polluting Your Air?

May 26, 2024
2 mins read
Freemont Factory in California, Photo Credit: Tesla
Freemont Factory in California, Photo Credit: Tesla

A nonprofit environmental group, Environmental Democracy Project, has filed a lawsuit against Tesla, alleging that the automaker, under CEO Elon Musk, violated the federal Clean Air Act hundreds of times by emitting harmful pollutants from its Fremont, California, factory. This lawsuit, filed in a federal court in San Francisco, adds to the growing pressure on Tesla to improve air quality around its flagship Fremont plant.

The Environmental Democracy Project claims that Tesla’s Fremont factory has been exposing nearby residents and workers to excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium, and other harmful chemicals. These toxins primarily originate from the automaker’s paint shop.

Tesla ranked 89th on the 2023 list of the top 100 toxic air polluters, an annual study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Environmental Protection Agency fined Tesla $275,000 in 2022, alleging that the company had failed to measure, track, and maintain records of its emissions and to minimize air pollutants from paint operations at the facility.

In February, Tesla agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by 25 California counties alleging it mishandled hazardous waste at locations throughout the state.

The latest lawsuit in California describes Tesla’s environmental violations as “ongoing” and states that nearby residents and employees have been exposed to “excessive amounts of air pollution, including nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium, and other harmful chemicals.” The group is seeking a court order to halt the excess pollution, in addition to civil penalties of up to $121,275 per day for violating the Clean Air Act.

The regulatory body stated earlier this month that violations were frequent, recurring, and could negatively impact public health and the environment.

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The air pollution from the assembly plant is due to equipment frequently breaking down, allowing emissions to escape directly into the air without proper filtration, according to regulators. Additionally, Tesla employees or contractors have reportedly disconnected the factory’s air pollution controls, especially when the company had issues with other equipment in the paint shop.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, an environmental regulatory body, recently accused Tesla of allowing “persistent emissions” in Fremont that should have been avoided. The agency said Tesla has received 112 violation notices since 2019 and is now seeking an abatement order that would require the company to implement changes in its factory operations.

The Fremont factory operates under what is known as a Title V air permit, governed by the BAAQMD. It found that Tesla’s operations violated that permit more than 160 times between 2012 and 2024.

In Tesla’s recent quarterly report, the company maintained that its mission is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

However, while spearheading a massive reorganization at Tesla in recent times, CEO Elon Musk has been promoting the company’s research and development efforts in artificial intelligence and self-driving software, robotaxis, and humanoid robots, rather than electric cars and solar energy products. Musk told investors on the company’s first-quarter earnings call to think of Tesla and its value “almost entirely in terms of solving autonomy.”

He recently called climate activists “communists,” sharing mocking memes aimed at them on X.

Rahul Somvanshi

Rahul, possessing a profound background in the creative industry, illuminates the unspoken, often confronting revelations and unpleasant subjects, navigating their complexities with a discerning eye. He perpetually questions, explores, and unveils the multifaceted impacts of change and transformation in our global landscape. As an experienced filmmaker and writer, he intricately delves into the realms of sustainability, design, flora and fauna, health, science and technology, mobility, and space, ceaselessly investigating the practical applications and transformative potentials of burgeoning developments.

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