Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 7, 2017

Contact: Vera Pardee, (858) 717-1488,

Lawsuit Targets Trump Administration's Fuel Efficiency Giveaway to Automakers

Token Penalties Too Small to Encourage Compliance, Protect Climate

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed a lawsuit today to overturn the Trump administration’s indefinite delay of higher penalties for new cars and trucks that do not meet minimum fuel-economy standards. Automobiles are now America’s largest source of carbon pollution.

Today’s suit, filed in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, challenges a July decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to suspend a 2016 rule that increased penalties for new vehicles failing to meet fuel-economy standards.

“Car companies churning out gas-guzzlers shouldn’t get to pay their way out of following rules that cut fuel consumption and protect our climate,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center. “The Trump administration’s giveaway to the auto industry is an unlawful move that hurts efforts to fight global warming and shield children and the elderly from harmful tailpipe pollution. Suspending meaningful fines for companies that don’t comply is like legalizing pollution-control defeat devices.”

The now-suspended 2016 rule accounted for inflation by nearly tripling the penalties from $5.50 to $14 for each 0.1 mile per gallon by which vehicles fall below the applicable standard. With unadjusted penalties, it is cheaper for some automakers to simply pay the fines than to install efficiency-boosting technology that also decreases carbon and other dangerous tailpipe pollution.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club joined the petition.

Congress enacted corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for new cars and trucks in 1975 to foster energy conservation and decrease the nation’s dependency on oil. Beginning in 2012 the EPA applied vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards for these vehicles. As a result the nation’s vehicle fleets have better fuel efficiency and emit fewer pollutants, such as particulate matter and ground-level ozone, that cause severe health problems.

The Center petitioned the traffic administration in 2015 to increase penalties for fuel economy violations to encourage higher rates of automaker compliance. In 2016, shortly after the agency announced its rule adjusting the penalties for inflation, automakers petitioned the agency for reconsideration. The Trump administration has now suspended the rules indefinitely. 

“Transitioning away from powering our cars and trucks with dirty, dangerous fossil fuels is crucial for our climate, our health and the nation’s economic competitiveness,” Pardee said. “Allowing automakers to avoid technological innovation by paying cheap fines isn’t doing our economy any favors. And it’s a major threat to our planet’s future.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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