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Tesla sued for air pollution from Fremont, California factory

An aerial view of the Tesla Fremont factory on April 24, 2024 in Fremont, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

You’re here is being sued by the Environmental Democracy Project, a nonprofit organization, which alleges “continued noncompliance with the Clean Air Act” at the electric vehicle company’s assembly plant in Fremont, California.

In the complaint filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco, the environmental group accuses Tesla of having violated this law “hundreds of times since January 2021, by emitting harmful pollution in the neighborhoods surrounding the factory”.

While Tesla has long touted the climate benefits of driving electric vehicles, its manufacturing practices have been criticized by environmentalists for years. Tesla ranked 89th on the 2023 list of 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, saying the company failed to measure, track and maintain records of its own emissions or minimize air pollutants from painting operations in the ‘facility.

Separately, Tesla was sued by 25 California counties over its handling of hazardous waste at facilities across the state earlier this year, and quickly settled with those counties. And in Germany, environmentalists protested Tesla’s clearing of forests to build a factory outside Berlin, as well as the company’s water consumption.

The latest California lawsuit described Tesla’s environmental violations as “continuous” and said nearby residents and employees were exposed to “excessive amounts of air pollution, including nitrogen oxides, arsenic, cadmium and other harmful chemicals.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

“Violations are frequent, recurring and can harm public health and the environment,” the regulator said in a statement earlier this month.

The assembly plant’s air pollution is the result of equipment that frequently breaks down, allowing emissions to escape directly into the air without proper filtration, regulators said. Additionally, Tesla employees or contractors allegedly interrupted air pollution controls at the factory, particularly when the company had problems with other paint shop equipment.

The paint shop is where unpainted vehicle bodies are primed, painted and coated before final assembly. Tesla has a history of repeated fires, CNBC previously reported.

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

However, by recently leading a massive reorganization at Tesla, CEO Elon Musk has favored its research and development efforts on artificial intelligence and self-driving software, robotaxis and humanoid robots, rather than on electric cars and solar energy products.

During the first quarter earnings conference call, Musk asked investors to think about Tesla and its value “almost entirely in terms of solving autonomy.” He recently called climate activists “communists,” sharing mocking memes targeting them on X.

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