Published in Economic Development

Nessel joins lawsuit challenging Trump administration fuel economy rollback

BY Thursday, May 28, 2020 11:28am

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined 22 other states in challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era automobile fuel economy standards.

A legal challenge has been brewing since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the rollback on March 31. The EPA’s plan calls for modest fuel efficiency increases in forthcoming internal combustion models.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel COURTESY PHOTO

The Obama administration rule, known as corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, called for ramping up fuel efficiency by about 5 percent each year through 2026. The Trump administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) rule scales it back to 1.5 percent each year. 

Critics say the Trump administration’s move — which was first announced in 2018 — comes amid dual threats from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. The coalition of states argue in the suit that the latest rule violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“The Trump administration touted the SAFE Vehicles Rule as giving the American people better access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment. But it does none of these things,” Nessel said in a statement. “Instead, this rule sabotages investment in technology that is better for the environment and slashes incentives to increase fuel efficiency which is better for drivers.”

Nessel added that she’s “keeping my pledge” to challenge attempts to roll back efforts that address climate change.

Previous estimates by the Trump administration showed the new rule will result in roughly 2 billion additional barrels of oil being consumed and roughly 900 million metric tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions while increasing average fuel costs by $1,000 per vehicle.

As the center of U.S. automobile manufacturing, Michigan and the Big Three automakers are on the front line of the dispute over vehicle fuel standards.

In 2010, federal agencies, the California Air Resources Board and auto manufacturers united under fuel efficiency standards. California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle program calls for vehicles to have an average fuel efficiency of about 50 miles per gallon by 2026. 

Fourteen other states have adopted California’s model, while Ford Motor Co. has said it’s committed to meeting emission reductions in line with California’s framework.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are also planning a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s rule. Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, told MiBiz last month the case will likely be joined with the states’.

The legal challenges also come during a presidential election year, which could provide the “next big decision point” in the dispute over the regulations, analysts previously told MiBiz.

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