U.S. Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against eBay for Enabling Sales of Products in Violation of Environmental Laws

The United States Justice Department (DOJ) has taken legal action against eBay, alleging multiple violations of environmental laws including the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The complaint, filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), accuses eBay of unlawfully selling and distributing hundreds of thousands of products, endangering public health and violating regulations designed to protect the environment.

There was a hint of this possibility dating back to last year when eBay admitted in a 10-K filing it was facing possible legal actions by the EPA.

The complaint specifically alleges that eBay sold, offered for sale, or contributed to the sale of over 343,000 aftermarket defeat devices, which are known to defeat motor vehicle emission controls, thereby contravening the CAA.

These devices have been found to significantly increase pollution emissions, including harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and nonmethane hydrocarbons, posing a grave threat to public health and hindering efforts by the EPA and local agencies to maintain air quality standards.

In addition to the CAA violation, eBay is accused of violating FIFRA by distributing or selling at least 23,000 unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticide products. This includes products that were sold despite a stop-sale order issued by the EPA in 2020 and amended in 2021.

Some of the products involved were highly toxic insecticides banned in the United States, restricted-use pesticides that only certified applicators should use, and products falsely claiming to protect users against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The complaint also brings to light eBay’s distribution of more than 5,600 items that violate the TSCA Methylene Chloride Rule. This rule expressly prohibits retailers from distributing products containing methylene chloride for paint and coating removal, as these products pose unreasonable risks, including fatalities, to consumers and the environment.

DOJ Complaint to Hold eBay Accountable

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division emphasized that online marketplaces like eBay are not exempt from laws that protect public health and the environment.

He stated, “We are committed to preventing the unlawful sale and distribution of emissions-defeating devices and dangerous chemicals that, if used improperly, can lead to dire consequences for individuals and communities.”

Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance echoed these sentiments, emphasizing that the complaint illustrates the EPA’s determination to hold online retailers accountable for unlawful product sales that could harm consumers and the environment.

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York expressed concern over eBay’s actions, stating, “eBay’s sale of emission control defeat devices, pesticides, and other unsafe products poses unacceptable risks to our communities disproportionately impacted by environmental and health hazards.” He pledged that the office would vigorously enforce federal law against those whose conduct endangers public health and the environment.

The complaint seeks a court order to declare eBay’s business practices as an e-commerce retailer in violation of the CAA, FIFRA, and TSCA.

It also calls for injunctive relief to prevent further violations and civil penalties for CAA violations. The lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and is being handled by a team of attorneys from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the Eastern District of New York.

eBay has not yet publicly responded to the complaint.

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