The auto industry may face new risks of criminal liability from an emerging federal enforcement strategy. For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have treated suspected violations of the Title II “mobile source” provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) as civil cases. That changed after the 2015 Volkswagen emissions case—breaking from an understanding in the auto industry that the CAA’s criminal enforcement mechanism was limited to stationary sources under Title I and does not contain a criminal enforcement mechanism for Title II violations.
As such, past criminal enforcement efforts related to mobile source issues relied on the government’s general Title 18 criminal enforcement authority. But after a number of prosecutions last year, the auto sector should be aware of the increasing risks of criminal liability.