The latest in pollution enforcement lawsuits by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office targets a source familiar to drivers — dirty diesel engine trucks and cars.

Despite regulations and new technology that can keep diesel pollution roughly as controlled as that from gasoline engines, diesel vehicles too often leave streams of bad air for following drivers to breathe.

One reason, apparently, is that sellers and owners of diesel vehicles are disabling or removing pollution controls. Last week the state sued Manheim Remarking Inc., alleging it tampered with controls on 214 vehicles in less than three years and perhaps thousands of others annually.

The nation’s largest vehicle auction company, Manheim has a facility in Burlington County and a lesser one in Essex County. Also sued were three vehicle resale dealers, including Rezzetti Enterprises in Vineland.

The state said Manheim and subsequent sellers advertised that the vehicles had disabled pollution controls, including no catalytic converter, exhaust gas recirculation removed or simply “altered emissions.” When these controls are removed, nitrogen oxide pollution is increased 20-fold.

A Department of Environmental Protection raid of a Manheim facility in February last year found 28% of 50 vehicles inspected had been tampered with. The company sells hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year in New Jersey.

The crackdown comes five years after Volkswagen was caught faking emissions levels in more than half a million vehicles, even as it made deceptive claims about its “clean diesel” fleet. Since 2015, the “Dieselgate” scandal has cost the company more than $30 billion in fines, penalties, restitution and lawsuit settlements.

Manheim told NJ Advance Media it was “totally surprised and taken aback” by the lawsuit, since it has been cooperating with the DEP for more than a year and voluntarily working to come into compliance.

Lawsuits despite cooperation have been common in the series of environmental lawsuits pursed by the Murphy administration.

The financially stressed state government may have a financial motive. The Air Pollution Control Act allows fines up to $10,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second and $50,000 for each subsequent offense. If a court decides each tampered vehicle is a separate offence, the penalties could yield a significant amount of revenue.

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