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Utah Harley dealers face air pollution claims

Courthouse News Service‘s Same Ribakoff has reported that on Monday, a federal judge in Utah ruled that an environmental nonprofit has standing to pursue most of its claims that Harley-Davidson dealerships that sell motorcycles without catalytic converters in the Wasatch Front area of the state are polluting the air. The nonprofit can not continue with its claim that the motorcycles are so loud they violate federal law.    

Ribakoff shares:

In his 68-page order, U.S. District Judge David Barlow also said that the plaintiff, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, presented sufficient evidence to show that motorcycles without catalytic converters contribute to ozone and PM2.5 pollution and that people in the north-central part of the state are injured by the elevated levels of pollution in the area. 

PM2.5 is a kind of fine particulate matter that can get deep into people’s lungs and bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, respiratory, and other health problems. 

“Motorcycle exhaust contributes to and prolongs the poor air quality in Utah that has been linked to serious diseases that range from short-term increased rates of heart attacks, strokes, and death to long-term neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint.

PM2.5 pollution, they add, can cause vision impairment, reduction of lung capacity, sinus irritation, coughing spells, foul smells, nose and throat irritation, lung damage, bronchitis, and even early death.

However, Barlow said the plaintiffs only have standing where they can prove that the dealerships removed or modified required pollution emission control parts from their bikes, and that they are or will be used in or around the Salt Lake City/Wasatch Front area. 

“It’s a long decision,” said Reed Zars, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “We’re prepared to go to trial on the Clean Air Act issues in particular.”

In 2022, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment filed the lawsuit against four different Harley-Davidson dealerships in the Wasatch Front area. The nonprofit said the dealerships — all owned by the same majority owner under two limited liability companies — removed required emission and noise control devices from both bikes at the request of customers and replaced them with aftermarket “defeat” devices that bypass emission control devices in violation of federal air and noise pollution standards.

While Barlow allowed the violations of air pollution claims to move forward to trial, he denied the plaintiff’s preliminary injunction motion, and ruled the plaintiff cannot continue with its claim that the dealerships sold motorcycles that were so loud, they violated the federal Noise Control Act.

There is evidence that the plaintiffs in the Salt Lake City/Wasatch Front area are affected by the noise from loud motorcycles, and that the defendant’s dealerships sell and install parts that are loud, but the plaintiffs didn’t prove that they were affected specifically by noise from the defendants’ motorcycles.   

“UPHE essentially seeks an assumption that because defendants sell, install, and remove parts which affect motorcycles’ noise level, that its members have been exposed to the same. But UPHE and the record are silent on the evidentiary basis for the assumption,” Barlow, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote. 

“There is no record evidence that the noise emitted from the motorcycles accumulates in a ‘noiseshed’ or otherwise impacts those that are not in the immediate presence of the noise when it is emitted,” Barlow added.”

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