U.S. DOJ Sues eBay For Inadvertently Helping Idiots “Roll Coal”

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Back when I had my first-generation Nissan LEAF, I figured out pretty quick that it was an attention getter. For some people, the weird alien pod and/or insect look of the car got their attention in a good way. They’d call it “cute” or “weird,” but thought it was pretty cool that it was electric. For other people, the attention wasn’t good, because they had some interesting ideas about the vehicle.

Instead of realizing that my LEAF was just a car, some people saw it as a symbol of everything that threatened them. After all, if you’re driving a weird-looking electric car, you must be “virtue signaling” because everyone knows that EVs are really bad for the environment, right? After all, the radio man just said so! It must be true! And, if you’re a virtue signaling, latte-sipping, ultra-wealthy, gay, gun-grabbing Democrat (who else would drive an EV in those days?), you must therefore hate conservative alpha males driving large diesel pickups, right?

Because two lesbians driving an EV is such a threat to the “alpha,” it’s important that they conduct a preemptive strike. So, they’d stomp the accelerator on their modified diesel pickup to create a nasty cloud of soot, blowing it all over the LEAF. This, of course, allowed us to see the light. We immediately divorced, went to church, and have had ten babies each since (the man in the truck is the father).

Oh, wait, it didn’t happen that way. The only thing “rolling coal” did was prove how insecure the guys were, and how little they actually knew about us. Then, as now, neither me nor my wife are Democrats (we’re not Republicans either). The reality was that I wanted to get into EVs because I could generate my own “fuel” at home for them. Plus, it meant giving OPEC countries less money and improved American energy security.

So, we usually just laughed at the guys because they were truly being a caricature of themselves.

But, in many ways, rolling coal isn’t funny at all (even if the people doing it are clowns). Diesel vehicles tend to be pretty dirty. Unfiltered diesel exhaust not only smells bad, but irritates the eyes and mouth, makes it difficult to breathe, can cause lung disease with enough exposure, and at worst can cause cancer. It’s estimated that around 21,000 people die in the U.S. annually from diesel particulate matter, as of 2005.

Since those estimates were made, newer diesels having a number of emissions reduction features to at least make them a little cleaner. These days, a stock diesel truck isn’t going to let out clouds of thick black particulate matter, because they’re designed to filter that out and make less of it in the first place. So, the death count is down, but it’s still in the thousands.

But, there are folks who either don’t care about this or think it’s a lie. In some cases, they want better performance or fuel mileage. For others, it’s an issue with the exhaust filtering system malfunctioning and requiring expensive repairs (this is a real problem that we shouldn’t make fun of). But, there’s still a small crowd that wants the black smoke just for the purpose of throwing black smoke.

If you go to most shops, they won’t change the engine’s programming or remove the exhaust filtering systems, because if they’re caught doing that, they face tens of thousands of dollars of fines. Most companies that used to sell these “delete kits” have stopped doing it because they, too, have been hit with fines. This leaves people who want to get rid of the emissions equipment in a tight spot, and many of them don’t have the equipment and skill to do the job themselves.

But, as the famed internet and social sciences commentator Alfred Yankovic explains in one of his works, there’s a place on the internet where one can go to get all manner of strange items. Used pink bathrobes, Smurf TV trays, and even ALF alarm clocks can all be had on eBay. So, it should be no surprise that diesel emissions delete kits could (until recently) be found on the website.

But, the U.S. Department of Justice wasn’t amused when they found this out, and they sued eBay for almost two billion dollars. They arrived at this figure by multiplying more than 343,000 offending transactions by the maximum fine of $5,580 per sale, so eBay has allegedly been at this for quite a while. On top of the diesel emissions delete kits, the government alleges that eBay sold thousands of products containing illegal paint removal and pesticide products.

“eBay has the power, the authority, and the resources to stop the sale of these illegal, harmful products on its website. It has chosen not to,” the filing states.

But, eBay denied the accusations in a press release, saying that they’ve done everything they could to block the sale of illegal items on the auctions website, whose listings are all created by third parties.

“Maintaining a safe and trusted marketplace for our global community of sellers and buyers is a fundamental principle of our business at eBay. 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.” the company’s release said. “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.”

eBay also claims that the government has never sued for something like this before, making it an unreasonable case. “The Government’s actions are entirely unprecedented and eBay intends to vigorously defend itself.” the company said.

eBay Probably Isn’t At Fault Here

I think most readers would agree that rolling coal is stupid. The people doing it think it’s cool, but in reality it hurts people and it makes the driver look pathetic. Insert joke about anatomy here, but keep in mind that flaky diesel exhaust systems are a real problem that many businesses and individuals can’t reasonably cope with. So, the sooner electric trucks are widely available at a competitive price point, the better.

In some ways, eBay really does have a point about the company’s role in this, though. The company obviously can’t make its auction site perfect. Many, many people list things on eBay every day, and the auctions can be over before anyone at eBay has a chance to spot that an illegal listing was happening. If everyone at eBay knew what all of the crimes were, they’d probably need a much bigger staff to sort through all of the listings. This probably isn’t affordable or reasonable.

It’s also important to know that the federal government itself doesn’t know how many federal crimes there are, but some legal scholars estimate the number of crimes at over 10,000. There are thousands of vague federal laws that reference other federal laws, along with references to state, local, tribal, and even foreign laws. If the government doesn’t even know how many crimes there are, it’s impossible for eBay’s non-lawyer staffers filtering through listings for minimum wage to have any clue what all the possible illegal items could be.

The government’s case is basically a demand that modern self-serve auction sites really can’t cope with. It may be better to go after the people rolling coal than to make online commerce unreasonably hard.

Featured image provided by eBay.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1769 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba