Clean Air Act complaint paints smoggy picture at Tesla Fremont factory

The cars might be zero emission, but accusers claim the paint shops aren't

Tesla is facing a lawsuit brought under the US Clean Air Act by the Environmental Democracy Project (EDP) claiming pollution from its Fremont facility.

According to the complaint [PDF]: "Tesla has exposed residents and workers in the area surrounding the Fremont Factory to excess amounts of air pollution, including nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium, and other harmful chemicals. These exposures are extensive and ongoing."

The complaint, filed in a California District Court, alleges that the Fremont facility has violated the Clean Air Act "hundreds of times" since January 2021.

The complaint concerns the paint shops at the facility, which, the filing alleges, "emit significant amounts of hazardous and criteria air pollutants."

Tesla has a permit to operate but must also notify authorities when it breaches the terms of the permit. According to the complaint, Elon Musk's automotive company reported more than 90 instances of non-compliance after emissions of nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium, and "other harmful chemicals" between January 2022 and June 2023.

The Clean Air Act [PDF] was first enacted in the US in 1955. It received major updates in 1970, 1977, and 1990, and the last update was on September 13, 2022. The act sets emission standards and mandates emission controls for sources of 187 hazardous air pollutants.

Fremont's problems appear to be caused by frequent equipment breakdowns, which allow pollutants to escape into the atmosphere. Tesla has already come under scrutiny by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over violations of the Clean Air Act by the Fremont facility, which it settled after paying a $275,000 fine.

The earlier penalty resulted from violations from October 2016 through September 2019, which included failing to track emissions, devise ways of working to minimize emissions and recordkeeping around hazardous pollutants.

Musk was warned that the lawsuit was on its way, with 60 days' notice given to Tesla.

The EDP has asked for an injunction to prohibit Tesla from violating its permit and called for civil penalties of up to $121,275 per day (or an amount adjusted for inflation) for each violation of the Clean Air Act.

The Register contacted Tesla for comment and will update this piece should the company respond. ®

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