By on September 11, 2017

gasoline fight from zoolander

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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29 Comments on “Gas Fight! States Suing Trump Administration Over Stalled Fuel Economy Fines...”

  • avatar

    Wake me up, before you go go!

  • avatar

    California, New York, Vermont, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to EPA – “Put up or shut up!”

  • avatar

    From Wikipedia article about CAFE and safety

    “A 2005 IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) plot shows that in collisions between SUVs weighing 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) and cars, the car driver is more than 4X more likely to be killed, and if the SUV weighs over 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) the car driver is 9 times more likely to be killed, with 16 percent of deaths occurring in car-to-car crashes and 18 percent in car-to-truck crashes.”

    I’ll take the SUV for an extra $5,000/year Alex

    • 0 avatar

      Completely agree. Even comparing impacts to static objects like a tree or guard rail, SUV mass vs car mass makes a difference. I’ll stick with a little more armor around me every time. I’ve been in too many accidents with idiots to blindly trust other drivers!

  • avatar

    If they are so concerned about air quality and fuel economy, why don’t they just raise the gasoline and diesel taxes in their states by $10 per gallon, which will encourage all their “wrong thinking” citizens to trade-in their gas hog Silverados and F-150s for Volts, Prius, and Leafs? Perhaps they could also ban anything with an engine larger than 1.5 liters from driving on public streets? Suing the Feds will take way too long to save the planet – they should enact these policies today.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve said this many times….if someone can show me how I can transport myself, my wife, 2 kids, and a dog all while towing my boat to the lake, with a Prius or Leaf or Bolt, I will go and buy one that day.

      Until then, I think I’ll keep my evil V8 crew cab truck.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, obviously those who think they should control what you drive think you should paddle a canoe instead of using all that fuel just to tow around a personal floating environmental disaster.

        I’m with stingray65. If the states want meaningful change, they should raise the fuel taxes, because simply requiring that one must drive a large, heavy vehicle to be permitted to consume large amounts of fuel is absurd and doing nothing to reduce fuel consumption.

        And if the people wanted meaningful change, they would purchase smaller, cheaper, more efficient vehicles and live well below their means.

        But nobody actually wants change. They simply want to demonstrate that they’re on the correct side of the battle of good against evil by demanding that someone invent a side-effect-free cure for their environmental sins.

    • 0 avatar

      Just remember that for every “ban” or “tax” you impose on things you don’t like, five more are coming for the things you do like.

      Be careful what you wish for.

      • 0 avatar

        Who is this mysterious “they” you speak of? Politicians who are cozy with the most powerful lobbying force in the world and don’t want to be voted out of office by screwing their constituents? Nope.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the input, but this is America, Ashole. There’s always at least one around when the subject comes up.

      You do have the freedom to own and “enjoy” your hybrid CUV, subcompact, or what ever. But if you don’t, you don’t. Most of us don’t. Move to Europe if you don’t like what you see here. How’s it worked out for them?

      “Urban sprawl” alone requires a comfortable ride, life’s to short. But you sound like someone that never leaves the city (which is better for the rest of us!!!). Fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, mountain biking, getting out to the middle of absolute nowhere fast, etc, etc.

      Maybe (ideally!!!) its “improvised” at the last minute on a work day, school day.

      What about flea markets, yard sales, tailgating, road trips, etc. The mind boggles. Yes all of it, any of it could be done by way of plug-in EV Moped, but it’s not quite the same thing.


  • avatar

    States are free to impose their own requirements on auto makers. Doesn’t Klownifornia already do that? Why yes it does. But it’s not enough for CA to tell its citizens how to live I guess, they have to tell citizens in the other 56 states how to live as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The goal is to make lawyers, bureaucrats, “activists” and other never-produced-anything, ess-than-nothing leeches more influential. “Citizens of other states”, “air quality” “gaja” and whatever other nonsense they are spewing, is just obfuscation.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        “Air quality” is nonsense??????? Where have you been living for the past 50 years? Maybe you should speak with someone who lived with ‘smog alerts’ and had to drive/walk through the clouds created by smog.

        Just because you disagree with something, shouldn’t mean that you ignore evidence to the contrary regarding part of the issue.

        • 0 avatar

          Childish, high profile, lawyer-and-“activist” aggrandizing lawsuits does exactly nothing to improve air quality.

          Air quality is largely a local issue. Nothing wrong with LA enforcing bans on spewing toxins into the air. I personally wish they went a lot further than they already have. Then, if whatever they did, look like it worked well enough, Atlanta may just follow suit. Despite being perhaps less politically inclined to do so at the outset. Nobody wants their kids to inhale toxins.

          But suing the federal government over largely politically motivated nonsense, serves no other purpose than entrenching already well entrenched, negative productivity leeching groups even further.

          • 0 avatar

            Think of how many trees the “activists” and “environmentalists” could plant with all the money they spend on legal fees. How many parks could be cleaned up, habitats managed, etc.

        • 0 avatar

          Come on, Arthur. I was experiencing those smog alerts too, and the most effective measures were taken by 1980. It took another decade for older cars to leave the road, and we’ve had clean air since.

          The EPA and enviro lobby have been chasing the last 3-4 percent improvement, without regard to cost, in violation of the legal requirement that EPA perform a cost-benefit analysis of every proposed regulation.

          All the “controversial” air quality regulations now being proposed have nothing to do with air quality, but everything to do with people who have a pernicious need to virtue-signal, at the expense of others’ freedom or wallet.

          • 0 avatar

            @Lorenzo: Your mistake is in believing that there’s only 3 to 4 percent improvement possible; while I agree the air is much cleaner, it’s not THAT clean over many parts of the country. High population centers still suffer from smog on a daily basis.

            But the EPA hasn’t only been fighting the visible stuff; they’re fighting the invisible stuff too. Vehicular exhaust consists of oxides and nitrogen compounds that are still poisonous to people that also have a deleterious effect on our environment. And… they emit heat which can be yet another issue.

            Now, I’ll grant that there are some cars whose manufacturers claim their cars emit fewer pollutants than they ingest, but those tend to be more of the particulate varieties than the oxides. Smaller engines help a lot too, as by burning less fuel they inherently produce fewer pollutants. And of course, a more efficient engine, one that can realize more than a mere 25% of the energy out of a gallon of gas, is also a cleaner engine. I highly doubt an ICE will ever get to even 80% efficiency but doubling to 50% efficiency would be a huge improvement.

    • 0 avatar

      “States are free to impose…”

      Nope states cannot “impose”, put into law, “Fuel Economy” standards, not even CA.

      If you meant “Emissions” standards, that’s a different story. Your state may not care about either, but it would get too expensive for automakers to custom build cars for specific states. This also meant Europe got treated to cars with “catalytic converters”, EGR, etc, years or decades before they actually required them.

  • avatar

    On the one hand, Congress told the NHTSA to adjust for inflation, so that’s not something the NHTSA gets to not do; Congress gets to decide things like that, it’s their job, and the NHTSA doesn’t get to decide it doesn’t feel like it.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure what standing either the States nor the Environmental Groups have for a lawsuit – “we don’t like it!” and a vague “it indirectly sort of hurts the environment because CO2!” are both not going to cut it for *standing* to sue.

    (Likewise especially “we want there to be more Federal income from fines so we can get our hands on some of it” is not grounds for standing, either.)

  • avatar

    This is just more grand standing for AGs who want to make a name for themselves.

    “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.”

    So you think all automotive technology stops unless increased CAFE fines go into effect?

  • avatar

    Not surprising at all that commiefornia is involved.

  • avatar

    Not surprised to see California here. Ever since the socialist democrats got power they’ve had a nonstop goal to waste taxpayer dollars like never before.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    • “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.

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