Attorney General James Leads Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration's Efforts To Undercut Fuel Efficiency Standards

Attorney General James Leads Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration’s Efforts to Undercut Fuel Efficiency Standards

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James today led a multistate coalition fighting the Trump Administration’s efforts to undercut industry compliance with fuel efficiency standards in New York and across the United States. In a lawsuit — filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — Attorney General James and 12 of the nation’s Attorneys General challenge a final rule issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which reduces penalties to an earlier Obama-era rule for automakers if they fail to meet corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE).

“This rule is just another misguided and reckless attempt by the Trump Administration to roll back the clock on our clean air standards, which is why we will stand up and fight to protect the health and well-being of New Yorkers and every person living in this country,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Without strong penalties for violating these fuel efficiency standards consumers, our economy, and our environment all remain in danger. As we’ve done in the past, we will continue to fight this battle against the Trump Administration’s efforts to ignore the realities of climate change and we will win.”

The new NHTSA rule repeals a rule adopted under the Obama Administration that imposed an inflation-adjusted penalty of $14 for every tenth of a mile-per-gallon (mpg) that an automaker fell below the CAFE standards, as required by the 2015 Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act. NHTSA’s rule would reduce the penalty for automakers violating standards back to $5.50 per tenth of an mpg — an amount far below the inflation-adjusted penalty required by law.

In the lawsuit, the 13 Attorneys General assert NHTSA’s new rule is unlawful and rewards automakers that fail to manufacture fuel-efficient vehicles. The coalition argues that the replacement rule violates federal law, which mandates that public agencies update their civil penalties to account for inflation using a clear timetable and formula for adjustment, and relies on an erroneous economic impact of the inflation-adjusted penalties.

This replacement rule follows a previous attempt by the Trump Administration to delay the updated penalty. On July 12, 2017, NHTSA published a notice in the Federal Register to announce an indefinite delay of the penalty. However, following a lawsuit led by New York and California, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit  ruled against  the Administration in April 2018.   

Co-leading the lawsuit with Attorney General James is California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said, “Fuel efficient cars on our roads are good for the economy, the environment, and our health. Our nation’s CAFE standards have proven their value. We were victorious in our earlier court battle against President Trump in maintaining the CAFE penalty level that accounts for inflation as required by law. Now the Trump Administration seeks to make these penalties meaningless. We’ll take on this latest wrong-headed maneuver with the same vigor that defeated the Administration’s first attempt at backsliding.”

Joining Attorney General James and Attorney General Becerra in filing the lawsuit are the Attorneys General of  Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

In the New York State Attorney General's Office, this matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Gavin McCabe and Affirmative Section Chief Yueh-Ru Chu of the Environmental Protection Bureau, in consultation with Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic, under the supervision of Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. This matter is also being handled by Deputy Solicitor General Steven Wu and Assistant Solicitor General David Frankel of the Division of Appeals and Opinions, led by Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.