Victory! Feds Ordered to Reinstate Updated CAFE Penalties

In a win for consumers and the environment, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club, and overturned a Department of Transportation attempt to indefinitely delay penalties on automakers for violating fuel economy standards. 

This ruling is a victory for consumers, our economic security, public health and the planet because the Trump administration’s illegal maneuvers to undercut needed fuel economy safeguards were thwarted. The Trump administration should be standing up for the public that overwhelmingly supports strong fuel economy standards and enforcing strong penalties on automakers that fail to meet those standards.

The Court’s ruling restores the proper penalty, trued up to account for decades of inflation. The updated penalty impels automakers to clean up their fleets, rather than offering them a cheap license to burn more gas if they fail to keep pace with fuel economy targets.

There is no reason to give automakers a cheap way out of compliance with the standards. The benefits of automakers meeting those targets are HUGE. The fuel economy standards for model years 2012 to 2025 will reduce oil consumption by 3.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2030. This in turn reduces climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding production of 570 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of taking 85 million cars off the roads, or 140 coal-fired power plants offline.

A recent Environmental Protection Agency trends report shows that cars and trucks have become more fuel-efficient over time—demonstrating the standards are working as intended. A new report by Synapse Energy Economics confirms that fuel economy standards drive economic growth—the standards are expected to add 100,000 jobs to the economy by 2025 and increase GDP by more than $13 billion by 2025.

The Court’s decision rejects one of the auto industry’s multiple attackson clean car and fuel economy programs, including the direct unwarranted and harmful weakening of the standards. The decision adds to the list of failed efforts by the Trump administration to illegally roll back environmental protections including efforts to scrap methane emissions rulesand rules regarding royalty payments on oil and gas leases. We’ll likely see more of these decisions over the next few years, as courts hold agencies to follow the procedures required by law.

Industry should never be given an easy pass to pollute. Federal agencies should do their jobs protecting the public health and environment. And when they don’t, here and elsewhere, we’ll be standing by to bring them into court.

About the Authors

Irene Gutierrez

Senior Attorney, Nature Program

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