Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 21, 2019

Contact: Jean Su, (415) 770-3187,

Why Is Trump Skipping Endangered Species Act Review for Clean Car Rollback?

Lawsuit Seeks Records on Transportation Agency's Exemption Claim

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration today for withholding public records related to its decision that its proposal to gut vehicle fuel-efficiency and tailpipe standards does not require Endangered Species Act review. The proposal would radically increase vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases and toxic air pollutants that are a danger to people and wildlife. 

“Putting more gas-guzzlers on the road would spell disaster for endangered species vulnerable to tailpipe pollution,” said Jean Su, the Center’s energy director. “We want to know how the Trump administration came to the bogus conclusion that it can duck a bedrock wildlife-protection law to pass this dangerous proposal.”

On Aug. 24, 2018, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency formally proposed the “Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles Rule” (SAFE Vehicles Rule) to freeze corporate average fuel-economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for new passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks at 2020 levels.

Under the Endangered Species Act, an agency must consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service if a proposed action “may affect” a federally listed threatened or endangered species or its critical habitat. The SAFE Vehicles Rule asserts that rolling back fuel-efficiency standards does not trigger this requirement.

The rule’s draft environmental impact statement states that the transportation agency concluded the consultation is not required because the potential harms of increased vehicle pollution on endangered species and their habitat are “too uncertain and remote.”   

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in D.C., seeks records from the agency related to that determination. The Center requested these records under the Freedom of Information Act in August 2018. The agency has refused to turn over records, pointing instead to the same unsupported language in its proposal and draft environmental impact statement that prompted the Center’s records request.

The claim that the rollback’s potential harms to imperiled species are “uncertain and remote” is easily disproven. For example, the federally listed bay checkerspot butterfly and desert tortoise are highly threatened due to nitrogen deposition from vehicle exhaust, which would vastly increase if the proposed rule is adopted. 

“Endangered species aren’t magically immune to toxic tailpipe pollution and climate chaos,” Su said. “The Trump administration wants to prop up the fossil fuel industry without having to consider the deadly consequences for checkerspot butterflies, polar bears and other species teetering on the edge of extinction.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases