November 27, 2020

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Multi-state coalition files court challenge to Trump Administration’s rollback of U.S. fuel economy standards

Multi-state coalition files court challenge to Trump Administration's rollback of U.S. fuel economy standards

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leading a multi-state coalition, this week filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s final rule rolling back the United State’s vehicle fuel economy standards announced in March. In filing the lawsuit, Becerra was joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Denver, and the Counties of San Francisco and Denver also joined the coalition in filing the lawsuit.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), CARB, and U.S. car manufacturers established a unified national program harmonizing greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel efficiency standards, known collectively as the Clean Car Standards. Two years later, the agencies extended the national program to model years 2017-2025 vehicles. As part of the program, California and the federal agencies agreed to undertake a midterm evaluation to determine if the greenhouse gas emission standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be maintained or revised. In January 2017, the EPA completed the midterm evaluation and issued a final determination affirming that the standards were appropriate and would not be changed.

The following year, the Trump Administration reversed the final determination with a new mid-term evaluation that alleged the standards were no longer appropriate or feasible. The Trump Administration later made its rollback proposal official, despite the fact that the auto industry was currently on track to meet or exceed the standards, the California attorney general’s office said.

On March 31, 2020, the Trump Administration announced its final rule rolling back the standards. The rule takes aim at the corporate average fuel economy standards, requiring automakers to make only minimal improvements to fuel economy—on the order of 1.5% annually instead of the previously anticipated annual improvement of approximately 5%. The rule also guts the requirements to reduce vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, allowing hundreds of millions of metric tons of avoidable carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next decade.

Since their introduction in 2010, these standards have saved consumers money, reduced harmful emissions, and helped protect the health of our communities, the attorney general said. The Trump Administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) rule stops this progress in its tracks, hurting the economy and public health at a time when the country can least afford it, he added. In the lawsuit, the coalition will argue that the final rule unlawfully violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“The underpinnings for the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘SAFE’ rule are crumbling before the rule even hits the road. The Administration claims their new rule will save money and lives, but previously undisclosed internal documents reveal how far from the truth that is,” said Becerra. “Just read the text of the rule and you will discover that it is a job-killer and public health hazard. It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families. President Trump should have listened to his own scientists. America’s Clean Car Standards were doing the job. We’re going to court to defend them.”

In the lawsuit, the coalition will argue that the Trump Administration’s rollback of the nation’s Clean Cars Standards is unlawful because, among other things:

  • The EPA and NHTSA’s rollbacks violate the statutory text and congressional mandates they are bound by; and
  • The EPA and NHTSA improperly and unlawfully relied on an analysis riddled with errors, omissions, and unfounded assumptions in an attempt to justify their desired result.

In October 2018, Becerra, leading a coalition of 21 attorneys general and the cities of Oakland, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and New York, submitted comments detailing numerous, fundamental flaws with the Trump rollback proposal and demanding that the Trump Administration withdraw it. The month before, in September 2018, he joined officials from around California to testify in defense of the nation’s existing Clean Car Standards at a public hearing in Fresno, California. Becerra is also leading a coalition of 24 attorneys general and the cities of Los Angeles and New York challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful attempt to undo California’s greenhouse gas emission and zero emission vehicle standards.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

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