Energy & Environment

18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards

A coalition of 18 states is pushing to intervene in a lawsuit from a conservative group challenging the Trump administration's plans to drastically reduce fuel economy standards.

The suit from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed earlier this month argues the administration erred in requiring automakers to increase fuel economy by 1.5 percent each year instead of freezing or reducing the standards even further.

"We'll go to the mat to defend our nation's Clean Car Standards against any illegal dismantling by the Trump Administration, including this latest unfounded lawsuit by its transparent allies," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a release. 

"CEI would like to take America back to the 20th Century. We're prepared to remind CEI that this is 2020, not 1920," he added. 

CEI lawyer Sam Kazman said the suit was a battle against overregulation. 

"As for the California AG's claim that we're trying to 'take America back in time,' he's not totally wrong--we're trying to take it back to a time when consumers could choose what kinds of cars to drive, and not have to worry about their being made less safe by overregulation," Kazman said. 

The motion follows a similar suit filed by California alongside 22 others that challenged the new standards directly.

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.

Major automakers last week also asked to intervene in the CEI lawsuit, saying through the Alliance for Automotive Innovation that the industry "remains united in its desire for yearly improvements in fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions."

Absent from the suit from automakers were four companies that have already signed deals with California to meet more aggressive fuel economy standards that track closely with what the Obama administration required.

California is involved in a separate legal battle challenging its right to set more aggressive fuel efficiency standards that can in turn be adopted by other states.

President Trump last September revoked that waiver, arguing the U.S. should have one national regulation for automakers. 

The suits have sparked concerns with some lawmakers that automakers will struggle in the global market while waiting to learn what standards they must meet.

"Protracted litigation is not an optimal outcome for the industry, consumers or the environment, but the actions of the administration led to the place we are today," Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said when the coalition of states challenged the rule Wednesday. 

"We need common sense fuel economy standards that increase year-over-year and preserve the role of the United States as the leaders in innovation and technology," she added.

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