Energy & Environment

States, green groups sue Trump over rollback of Obama fuel efficiency regulations

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Two separate coalitions made up of 23 states and a dozen environmental groups sued the Trump administration Wednesday over its rollback of a key Obama-era climate measure that required automakers to meet ambitious fuel efficiency standards.

The March rule cuts the year-over-year improvements expected from the auto industry, slashing standards that require automakers to produce fleets that average nearly 55 mpg by 2025. Instead, the Trump rule would bring that number down to about 40 mpg by 2026, bringing mileage below what automakers have said is possible for them to achieve.

Attorneys general say the rule conflicts with laws requiring the government to set the maximum possible standard for automakers.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) told reporters the state would take the administration to court “with our three best allies by our side: the facts, the science and the law.”

A coalition of 12 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed a similar suit just moments later.

The Trump administration standards, finalized by both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are considered particularly vulnerable in court because they cost consumers some $13 billion more than they would save.

“The day that the administration released this rule, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claimed that ‘This final rule will save lives, reduce pollution and provide significant benefits to the American economy.’ He’s wrong on all of those counts,” Becerra said.

“EPA’s approach risks lives, it increases pollution, and it’s jocular. This rule will increase air pollution. The agency’s own analysis states that.”

Internal government documents recently reviewed by The Hill showed the White House questioned the legal justification behind the rule.

The documents also show a number of concerns raised by EPA staff were not addressed before the rule was finalized.

Becerra, joined by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, said they would seek to uncover any other documents showing a disconnect between staff analysis and what the administration chose to implement.

“Playing games with the facts is a short game. The courts are playing the long game. And you can’t be making stuff up and hiding the facts and get away with it over the long term,” Weiser said, noting it was the same strategy that helped states win their case against the Trump administration challenging adding a citizenship question to the Census.

NHTSA would not comment on the cases, while EPA said its rule “provides a sensible, single national program that strikes the right regulatory balance, protects our environment, and sets reasonable targets for the auto industry, while supporting our economy and the safety of American families.”

The suit from the attorneys general, spearheaded by California, is the latest chapter in a long saga between the state and the administration concerning the auto industry.

President Trump last September revoked the waiver that allows the state to set more stringent vehicle emissions that have in turn been adopted by more than a dozen other states.

But California has since shown some automakers are willing to meet more aggressive standards voluntarily.

Four automakers have already signed a deal with California to meet more aggressive standards that hew closely to the Obama-era ones.

“The fact that we have members of the auto industry that are willing to move forward with similar clean car standards proves that not only do they work, but that you don’t have to backslide on clean car standards in order to get the industry to move forward,” Becerra said.

Automakers that have not signed a deal with California last week intervened in a suit filed by conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute to argue against freezing or further reducing the fuel economy standards. 

Nessel said rolling back the standards would harm the industry more than help it. The government’s own analysis finds that the rule would decrease the number of autoworker jobs.

“These companies need to compete in the global markets. And that’s a market that is increasingly recognizing the great importance of fuel efficient vehicles. The loss of automotive industry-related jobs will hit Michigan’s economy especially hard,” she said, calling the rule “a gift to the fossil fuel industry.”

The American Petroleum Institute has not taken a position on the rule, with president Mike Sommers telling reporters Wednesday that consumers “are going to continue to demand cleaner cars going forward.”

Environmental groups plan to argue the rule will be harmful to consumers in a number of ways.

The Sierra Club called the rule “one of the sloppiest regulatory actions to date, full of mathematical and logical errors, according to the administration’s own economists. This flawed rule — which will increase pollution, endanger public health, cut auto jobs, and further burden American families with higher fueling costs — will not hold up in court, just like the vast majority of the Trump Administration’s unjustified actions.”

Tags Andrew Wheeler Barack Obama climate legislation Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Fuel Efficiency Standards Xavier Becerra
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