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DOJ files environmental suit against eBay

eBay is disputing claims it violated environmental laws.

A new complaint accuses eBay of selling and distributing hundreds of thousands of products that violate various federal environmental laws.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept. 27, that alleges eBay sold, offered for sale or caused the sale of more than 343,000 aftermarket "defeat" devices that help vehicles try to evade emission controls in violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

eBay is also accused of violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by unlawfully distributing or selling at least 23,000 unregistered, misbranded or restricted-use pesticide products, in violation of a stop sale order EPA issued to eBay in 2020 and amended in 2021.

Finally, the complaint alleges that eBay has distributed over 5,600 items in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Methylene Chloride Rule. The rule prohibits retailers from distributing products that contain methylene chloride for paint and coating removal.

The complaint seeks a court order that eBay’s business practices as an e-commerce retailer violated the CAA, FIFRA and TSCA and requests that eBay be prevented from further violations of these laws and face civil penalties for CAA violations.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, is being handled by Senior Attorney James Freeman for ENRD’s Environmental Enforcement Section and by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Blume and Paulina Stamatelos for the Eastern District of New York.

“Laws that prohibit selling products that can severely harm human health and the environment apply to e-commerce retailers like eBay just as they do to brick-and-mortar stores,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “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.”

“Our nation’s environmental laws protect public health and the environment by prohibiting the unlawful sale of defeat devices; unregistered, misbranded and restricted use pesticides; and unsafe products containing toxic chemicals such as methylene chloride,” said Assistant Administrator David M. Uhlmann of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The complaint filed today demonstrates that EPA will hold online retailers responsible for the unlawful sale of products on their websites that can harm consumers and the environment.”

“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,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “Together with our partners, this office will vigorously enforce federal law against those whose conduct endangers public health and the environment.”

eBay responded to the suit in a public statement.

"Maintaining a safe and trusted marketplace for our global community of sellers and buyers is a fundamental principle of our business at eBay.,” the e-commerce retailer said in the statement. “We dedicate significant resources, implement state-of-the-art technology and ensure our teams are properly trained to prevent prohibited items from being listed on the marketplace. Indeed, eBay is blocking and removing more than 99.9% of the listings for the products cited by the DOJ, including millions of listings each year.

“And eBay has partnered closely with law enforcement, including the DOJ, for over two decades on identifying emerging risks and assisting with prevention and enforcement. The government's actions are entirely unprecedented and eBay intends to vigorously defend itself."

It’s been a busy week for federal lawsuits against major e-commerce retailers, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 17 states filed a suit on Tuesday, Sept. 26 accusing Amazon of being a “monopolist” that uses anticompetitive and unfair strategies in its online retail business.

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