The EPA is reportedly throttling back on a settlement with Harley-Davidson over emissions violations amid Republican concerns about a clean air project set up by the deal.
The motorcycle giant agreed last August to pay $12 million in civil penalties and $3 million on a pollution mitigation project after EPA found the company had manufactured and sold almost 340,000 devices to bypass pollution controls and more than 12,000 non-compliant motorcycles.
But the court hasn't yet approved the deal. According to an EPA official who asked to remain anonymous, political hires at the agency have stopped career prosecutors from moving to finalize the settlement since January.
Environmental advocates said the delay could be a sign of shifting priorities at the agency.
"This Harley-Davidson case is a pretty basic enforcement case that is entirely in keeping with the way enforcement has been happening at the agency for many, many years," said Nick Conger, a former transportation and enforcement spokesman at EPA and now a press secretary at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Why this case would be slowed is curious. It smells like politics."
The lack of the green light from the top delays clean air benefits to the public, he said.
Former top EPA enforcement officials have said it is not unusual for an incoming administration to take time to review some policies (Greenwire, Nov. 16, 2016).
The new administration has not yet tapped a new chief or deputies for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Since President Trump came to office, other cases, including the larger and more controversial $14.7 billion deal with Volkswagen and several new routine settlements over pesticide, wastewater and chemicals violations, have moved forward..
The Harley-Davidson settlement has been caught up in a debate over special projects to correct environmental harm that companies that have been found to violate EPA rules sometimes fund as part of their settlements.
Republicans and conservative groups have slammed some of the projects as "slush funds." EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's team has welcomed comments on, among other things, a $2 billion investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure required of Volkswagen over its emissions cheating.