This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Trump administration attempt to make life easier for vehicle manufacturers whose vehicles don’t meet fuel efficiency standards. The Trump administration had attempted to dramatically slash the fines that car manufacturers would have to pay per tenth of a mile per gallon that each vehicle goes above the federal government’s fuel economy standard. Whereas the fine had previously been apparently set at $14 per tenth of a mile per gallon, the Trump administration had sought a level of $5.50 — a big drop. Fuel economy-related fines quickly accumulate when applied to every vehicle from a particular manufacturer that exceeds the standards.
The latest ruling from the Second Circuit Appeals Court is the second time that the court has weighed in on the issue. Previously, prior to the 2019 fines change that was imposed by the Trump Administration’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the court had ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to delay an increase in the fuel economy-related fines that had been scheduled by Congress in 2015. Federal legislation known as the Improvements Act includes provisions for an increase in monetary penalties that’s meant to keep the weight of the penalties in line with inflation.
Subsequently, the Trump administration appears to have attempted to slash much of the fines altogether — and they employed a similar tactic when it comes to the fuel economy standards themselves. Although the Obama administration demanded automobiles to be at nearly 55 miles per gallon across the board by 2025, the Trump administration dialed those levels down to demand 40 miles per gallon by 2026. As in the fuel economy-related fines case, lawsuits have emerged following that rule change — and the state of California has struck its own deal with automobile manufacturers under which produced vehicles would be more in line with Obama-era standards.
In this case, environmental groups and a full 13 states sued over the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back the fines for violating fuel efficiency standards. The Sierra Club, which participated in the lawsuit, commented:
‘Once again, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the Trump Administration cannot give away polluting passes to automakers who lag behind on meeting standards required by law. This is yet another reminder to Donald Trump’s NHTSA that the agency must comply with the law and set strong civil penalties that promote fuel economy and encourage automakers to meet the clean car standards.’
The Trump administration has consistently sought to undermine environmental safety regulations for the purpose of paving the way for big business. For instance, the administration has repealed the so-called Waters of the United States rule, which expanded the waterways that were under federal jurisdiction and subject to cleanliness standards.
The Trump administration also moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which was an agreement between the vast majority of countries outlining steps to curtail carbon emissions and otherwise thwart climate change. At one point, Trump even derided a report on the looming effects of climate change that had been produced by his own administration, telling reporters that he simply didn’t believe it.