Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have made good on their long-standing threat to file a lawsuit against Donald Trump’s bid to weaken vehicle fuel economy standards enacted by President Barack Obama.
“In March, the [Trump] administration issued final rules requiring 1.5% annual increases in vehicle fuel efficiency through 2026—far weaker than the 5% increases” established under Obama, Reuters reports. “The Trump administration also abandoned its August 2018 proposal to freeze requirements at 2020 levels through 2026.”
The decision “used questionable science, faulty logic, and ludicrous assumptions to justify what they wanted from the start: to gut and rewrite the single most important air regulation of the past decade,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB). Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel called the rule a “gift to the fossil fuel industry” that would ultimately reduce auto industry employment in her state by 4%.
The final rule opened the legal floodgates, just as observers had predicted from the moment Trump began tampering with the previous rule. “New York City, Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are joining the challenge by California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, and 17 other states,” the news agency states. “Separately, 12 environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists also sued over the rules.”
Previously, California and 22 other states had filed suit to defend the state’s long-standing right to set its own, tougher standards for vehicle fuel efficiency.
The long-running legal and regulatory battle has seen a major policy split within the U.S. auto sector, with some companies standing on the side of tougher, more competitive fuel economy rules and others siding with Trump. Most of all, the industry has been acutely nervous about the prospect of a years-long court process that would create uncertainty over regulatory requirements for new vehicles, and run the risk of fragmenting the North American auto market by setting up two separate emissions control standards, one led by California and the other by Washington.
The fight has implications for Canada, as well, given an integrated North American industry in which Canadian fuel economy standards have long been harmonized with the U.S. Then-federal environment minister Catherine McKenna announced in June 2019 that Canada would align with the California standard, but Ottawa has been under continuing pressure to go it alone if Trump persists in his efforts to gut his country’s fuel economy rules.