Trump admin to reconsider penalties for car efficiency violations

Source: By Timothy Cama, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Trump administration is reconsidering higher penalties put in place last year for automakers that violate vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

In a pair of notices released Tuesday and due to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is delaying enforcement of the regulation increasing the penalties while it reviews them for potential change or repeal.

“NHTSA initially raised the civil penalty rate for [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standard violations for inflation in 2016, but upon further consideration, NHTSA believes that obtaining additional public input on how to proceed with CAFE civil penalties in the future will be helpful,” the agency wrote in the notice announcing the reconsideration.

Citing inflation, the Obama administration last year increased the penalty for noncompliance with the fuel economy rules to $14 for each tenth of a mile per gallon for each vehicle an automaker sold in violation of the rules, starting in 2019.The existing penalty is $5.50 and hadn’t changed since 1975. NHTSA cited a law passed last year that mandated that civil penalties across the government must keep pace with inflation, with some exceptions.

That penalty will now stay in place indefinitely while NHTSA considers whether to change it.

The Sierra Club slammed NHTSA decision as a threat to the climate.

“In order to keep our air clean and our climate safe, we need to put clean car standards in the fast lane, but Donald Trump is attempting to backpedal on vital climate and consumer protections,” Andrew Linhardt, the group’s director of federal advocacy, said in a statement.

“If Trump decreases these fines, he will put Americans’ health and safety at risk with increased climate emissions from oil use. We’ve seen time and time again that automakers are trying to cheat the system — we should be more vigilant, not less.”

The agency cited a joint petition from the Auto Alliance and Global Automakers, the auto industry’s two main lobbying groups, in reconsidering the standards.

The industry groups argued that the sudden increase to $14 would have a “negative economic impact,” and asked regulators to change their calculations.

The mileage standards are enforced in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

One of Trump’s first environmental regulatory actions in office was to order federal regulators to review whether to keep the standards for model years 2022 through 2025 that the Obama administration had put in place or to weaken them, as the auto industry has requested.