Court tosses Trump rule delaying higher fines for automakers

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A federal appeals court today found that the Trump administration unlawfully delayed higher penalties for automakers that don’t meet fuel economy standards.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-page order vacating the delay, granting petitions by environmental groups and a coalition of state attorneys general. The court said it would issue an opinion laying out the reasons for the order “in due course.”

At issue is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s July decision to indefinitely delay an Obama-era rule that tripled fines for automakers. Congress passed a law in 2015 requiring agencies to adjust fines for inflation.

The agency said it wanted to reconsider “appropriate” penalties in the corporate average fuel economy program. NHTSA later proposed a rule to overturn the increased penalties on the grounds that the fines are exempt from the statute because they’re not a “civil monetary penalty” (Greenwire, March 28).

Environmentalists and New York, California, Vermont, Maryland and Pennsylvania sued over the delay in September, arguing that it violated both proper rulemaking procedures and the 2015 Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act (Greenwire, Sept. 11, 2017).

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) cheered today’s decision and called the higher standards “common-sense measures.”

“Today’s court order is a big win for New Yorkers’ and all Americans’ health and environment,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “As we’ve proven again and again, when the Trump administration puts special interests before public health and our environment, we’ll take them to court — and we will win.”

Richard Revesz, director of New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, said the ruling could foreshadow future problems for the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back Obama-era emissions standards.

“The administration’s disregard for the law and the poor quality of the analytical work underlying its deregulatory actions continue to lead to court losses,” Revesz said.

“Today’s result is likely a predictor of analytical and legal weaknesses in the administration’s broader effort to water down vehicle-efficiency rules, which includes the weakening of the standards for 2022-25 model years.”

The Institute for Policy Integrity had filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the case.