Much attention has been paid recently to new regulations under the Clean Air Act governing greenhouse gas emissions. However, EPA continues to pursue emissions violations with respect to other pollutants that it has regulated for decades, such as nitrous oxides and particulate matter. EPA has focused its enforcement in this regard on imports of “non-road” mobile sources, which include a wide variety of diesel and gas-powered engines, vehicles and equipment, such as chainsaws, weed trimmers, dirt bikes, marine vessels and large industrial forklifts and bulldozers. Increasingly, EPA has looked to emissions labels as an initial basis for enforcement actions at the border.

An emissions label is the primary means by which manufacturers inform consumers and regulators that the engines in their products are either: (1) in a “certified” configuration, i.e., are constructed and certified by EPA to emission standards currently in effect; or else (2) are allowed to be in the United States, either temporarily or permanently, under an exemption from certification. The label contains important information about the engine family and power category to which the engine or equipment belongs, the model year and the date of manufacture. All of this information is important to determining whether the engines or equipment are required to meet emission standards and, if so, which standards they are required to meet, and when.

Almost without exception, manufacturers may not sell non-road engines or equipment unless they have been properly certified or exempted from certification and labeled accordingly. Likewise, imports of such products must bear labels showing that they are certified by EPA to current emission standards or else are exempt from those standards. Importers must also file EPA Form 3520-21 at the time of importation and affirmatively declare that the goods are properly certified or exempted from certification, and labeled in accordance with the applicable certification or exemption.

Even where engines and equipment are properly certified, manufacturers and importers alike can face significant penalties if emissions labels fail to meet specific requirements. Some of the most common labeling issues that manufacturers and importers face are described below.