Skip to main content

Vancouver business to pay $40,000 after removing catalytic converters from trucks

caption: A long line of Ram pickup trucks sits in an otherwise empty storage lot at a Dodge dealership Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Littleton, Colo.
Enlarge Icon
A long line of Ram pickup trucks sits in an otherwise empty storage lot at a Dodge dealership Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Littleton, Colo.

Thieves have been sawing off catalytic converters from the undersides of cars and selling the precious metals inside them. But there’s another type of catalytic crime going on.

Some businesses have been paying to have the pollution-prevention devices illegally removed from their diesel trucks to boost their performance.

The Washington Attorney General's office says it's caught at least three companies in Clark County trying to do an end-run around the pollution-control devices on their diesel trucks.

Removing or disabling a catalytic converter can allow 40 times more lung-harming exhaust out of a car or truck tailpipe.

The Clark County businesses are charged with tampering with just a few trucks each.

Vancouver-based drilling firm Pacific Foundation has agreed to pay a $40,000 penalty and keep its four extra-polluting trucks off the road until their catalytic converters can be replaced.

“It’s been an expensive lesson,” Pacific Foundation President Michael Zeman said.

Zeman said nobody at the company knew anything about the illegal tampering when Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency investigators informed him of it in February. He said the person responsible for vehicle maintenance had been fired last year.

Like two other Clark County construction firms facing state prosecution, Pacific Foundation had taken its trucks to RPM Northwest, a truck-repair shop in Ridgefield, according to prosecutors.

A former RPM Northwest mechanic told EPA investigators that the “Upgrade-DTM” on the garage’s invoices stood for “delete, tune, muffler,” with “delete” referring to removing the catalytic converter.

The owners and service manager of RPM Northwest, the garage in Ridgefield that allegedly stripped those trucks of their anti-pollution devices, are facing federal charges, with a trial set for Oct. 25. Co-owner Sean Coiteux did not respond to an interview request.

“These defendants increased toxins in our environment that are linked to cancer, as well as pulmonary, neurological, cardiovascular, and immune system damage. And they collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for doing so,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman said in a 2021 press release.

“It may seem like ‘one vehicle, how bad can it be?’” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday. “But when you alter one vehicle, each one does have a significant environmental impact.”

Zeman said Pacific Foundation immediately took four trucks out of service when informed of the catalytic-converter removals. He’s been trying to find replacement catalytic converters and pollution sensors for them but had no luck due to supply-chain disruptions.

The attorney general’s office says while these cases are small, emissions cheating is widespread.

“We are confident there are hundreds more situations like this, if not thousands more, in Washington state alone,” Ferguson said.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly one in six diesel pickup trucks nationwide have had their pollution controls disabled.

Diesel emissions cheating has been happening on a global scale as well.

Since 2018, Washington state has received $141 million from Volkswagen after the automaker was caught installing software designed to let millions of its cars cheat their way through emissions tests.

That money is being used to fight pollution in communities afflicted by diesel exhaust, with $91 million of it already spent to replace diesel school buses and ferries and install electric-vehicle chargers.

Why you can trust KUOW