Gas Fight! States Suing Trump Administration Over Stalled Fuel Economy Fines

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gas fight states suing trump administration over stalled fuel economy fines

A handful of states have banded together to sue the Trump Administration for delaying financial penalties associated with automakers’ inability to meet minimum fuel economy standards. As part of the president’s deregulation proposals, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has placed Obama-era mandates on review as regulators debate whether to grant automakers significant reductions in fuel economy requirements.

However, those changes have yet to arrive, meaning the industry is still under pre-existing standards — and some states want automakers held accountable. California, New York, Vermont, Maryland, and Pennsylvania want the current administration to introduce its proposed quotas or enforce the already established 2016 limits.

Having reviewed a copy of the suit ahead of its filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Reuters notes that the states and three environmental groups are jointly challenging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s July decision to suspend a 2016 directive that more than doubled penalties.

In 2015, Congress ordered federal agencies to adjust civil penalties to account for inflation. In response, the NHTSA proposed to raise fines from $5.50 to $14 for every 0.1 mile per gallon of fuel that newly built vehicles consume in excess of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

“State attorneys general have made clear: we won’t hesitate to act when those we serve are put at risk,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in an official statement.

Automakers immediately protested the hike, claiming it could increase industry compliance costs by around $1 billion annually. Likewise, chief executives of 18 carmakers issued memorandums to both the president and Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt at the start of this year. The letters urged officials to relax efficiency and emissions standards, despite manufactures having already agreed to the previous terms while Obama was in office.

In March, Trump ordered a comprehensive review of the vehicle fuel efficiency standards from 2022 through 2025, saying they were too strict and might handicap productivity.

The NHTSA said in July that many automakers were already falling behind the current fuel economy standards and could be faced with “the possibility of paying larger CAFE penalties over the next several years.” While it cited that figure as $30 million in annual civil penalties, automakers claim it could be much higher. Automakers have also mentioned the possibility of increased costs to consumers and a production decline that could end up “putting hundreds of thousands and perhaps as many a million jobs at risk.”

It’s hard to know which group to listen to — each has its own agenda to push in the gasoline fight. The Obama administration wanted an environmental victory, Trump wants a business win, states want a well-stocked U.S. Treasury, and automakers want to remain as profitable as possible with minimal oversight.

Of course, the backdrop to all of this is doing what’s best for the planet.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that gas-sipping cars mean “cleaner air, better overall health for our children, and savings at the pump… We will hold the Trump Administration accountable.”

The litigants’ fear is that companies won’t bother with emissions without government intervention. Conservatives say over-regulation is detrimental to the health of the automotive industry. Meanwhile, Liberals are convinced business will take advantage of the environment the second efficiency standards are rolled back.

To play devil’s advocate, I’ll remind everyone (for the third time this week) that practical fuel economy hasn’t changed since 2014. Meanwhile, the public hasn’t embraced ultra-green vehicles to the degree proponents hoped for. But more than 700,000 jobs have been added in the automotive sector since the government bailed out the auto industry, and plenty of them are due to parts suppliers focusing on efficient vehicle technologies.

[Image: Paramount Pictures]

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  • Kamiller42 Kamiller42 on Sep 12, 2017

    Five liberal states are upset the Executive branch is picking and choosing laws it wants to enforce, and they don't like it. Were they asleep during 8 years of Obama, a president who made this practice fashionable? Dear 5 states, tell me your stance on sanctuary cities.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 12, 2017

    • "To play devil’s advocate, I’ll remind everyone (for the third time this week) that practical fuel economy hasn’t changed since 2014." ---- But note also that in 2014 those vehicles were already meeting 2019 or 2020 standards according to some reports. • "Meanwhile, the public hasn’t embraced ultra-green vehicles to the degree proponents hoped for." ---- Maybe not to the levels hoped, but there are still several hundred thousand BEVs on the road that weren't there seven years ago (on a global basis) and on average the total number continues to grow, albeit slowly. The slowdown this year has been mostly an anticipatory one for the Bolt and the Tesla Model 3, while others stand to hit the market as soon as next year, raising the potential market to new levels while making some more affordable to the people who really are the ones needing to make the switch. Up to now, the only longer-range models have been priced out of the general consumer market.

  • 56m65711446 Well, I had a suburban auto repair shop in those days.
  • Dukeisduke Yikes - reading the recall info from NHTSA, this sounds like the Hyundai/Kia 2.4l Theta II "engine fire" recall, since it involves an engine block or oil pan "breach", so basically, throwing a rod:"Description of the Safety Risk : Engine oil and/or fuel vapor that accumulates near a sufficiently hot surface, below the combustion initiation flame speed, may ignite resulting in an under hood fire, and increasing the risk of injury. Description of the Cause :Isolated engine manufacturing issues have resulted in 2.5L HEV/PHEV engine failures involving engine block or oil pan breach. In the event of an engine block or oil pan breach, the HEV/PHEV system continues to propel the vehicle allowing the customer to continue to drive the vehicle. As the customer continues to drive after a block breach, oil and/or fuel vapor continues to be expelled and accumulates near ignition sources, primarily expected to be the exhaust system. Identification of Any Warning that can Occur :Engine failure is expected to produce loud noises (example: metal-to-metal clank) audible to the vehicle’s occupants. An engine failure will also result in a reduction in engine torque. In Owner Letters mailed to customers, Ford will advise customers to safely park and shut off the engine as promptly as possible upon hearing unexpected engine noises, after experiencing an unexpected torque reduction, or if smoke is observed emanating from the engine compartment."
  • Dukeisduke In an ideal world, cars would be inspected in the way the MoT in the UK does it, or the TÜV in Germany. But realistically, a lot of people can't afford to keep their cars to such a high standard since they need them for work, and widespread public transit isn't a thing here.I would like the inspections to stick around (I've lived in Texas all my life, and annual inspections have always been a thing), but there's so much cheating going on (and more and more people don't bother to get their cars inspected or registration renewed), so without rigorous enforcement (which is basically a cop noticing your windshield sticker is out of date, or pulling you over for an equipment violation), there's no real point anymore.
  • Zipper69 Arriving in Florida from Europe and finding ZERO inspection procedures I envisioned roads crawling with wrecks held together with baling wire, duct tape and prayer.Such proved NOT to be the case, plenty of 20-30 year old cars and trucks around but clearly "unsafe at any speed" vehicles are few and far between.Could this be because the median age here is 95, so a lot of low mileage vehicles keep entering the market as the owners expire?
  • Zipper69 At the heart of GM’s resistance to improving the safety of its fuel systems was a cost benefit analysis done by Edward Ivey which concluded that it was not cost effective for GM to spend more than $2.20 per vehicle to prevent a fire death. When deposed about his cost benefit analysis, Mr. Ivey was asked whether he could identify a more hazardous location for the fuel tank on a GM pickup than outside the frame. Mr. Ivey responded, “Well yes…You could put in on the front bumper.”