NRDC and Partners Take Trump Administration to Court for Reversing Clean Car Standards

The latest lawsuits aim to reinstate rules that save consumers billions of dollars at the pump and spare the climate millions of tons of carbon pollution.
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The latest lawsuits aim to reinstate rules that save consumers billions of dollars at the pump and spare the climate millions of tons of carbon pollution.

Alongside a coalition of environmental groups, NRDC sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today for illegally gutting clean car standards—again—which are considered by many experts to be the largest federal action ever taken to fight climate change. Mandated under the Clean Air Act, the previous standards helped prevent carbon pollution, saved consumers $90 billion in fuel costs, and spurred economic growth through investments in clean and efficient vehicle technology.

“These illegal rollbacks mean more air pollution that harms our health and fuels the climate crisis,” says NRDC attorney Ben Longstreth, “while sucking billions of dollars more out of Americans’ pockets at the pump.”

The EPA and the NHTSA released their final replacement rule in late March, which sets the allowable nationwide standards for tailpipe pollution and fuel efficiency.

The Trump administration’s new rule, which relies on faulty and misleading technical and economic analysis, allows automakers to increase vehicle fuel efficiency by a mere 1.5 percent each year rather than the achievable 5 percent annual increase required by the previous standards. The rollback also loosens limits on tailpipe emissions. All this will cause at least 867 million metric tons more climate-destroying pollution and, according to the Trump administration’s own calculations, will likely cost consumers at least $175 billion in additional fuel costs during the time they own their cars.

Meanwhile, the law requires that NHTSA must set the “maximum feasible” standards and, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must protect the public’s health and welfare. “The rollback fails both requirements,” said NRDC clean car expert Luke Tonachel.

Since they were finalized in 2012, clean car standards have spared the environment an estimated 475 million metric tons of carbon pollution from the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions: transportation. Meanwhile, automakers have hit record sales while producing vehicles of all types and sizes that pollute less and go farther on a tank of gas.

Today’s lawsuits against the EPA and NHTSA—backed by a group that includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Communities for a Better Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists—is just the latest targeting federal rollbacks made during the COVID-19 crisis. NRDC also recently sued the Trump administration when it halted enforcement for numerous worker safety, environmental, and public health protections.

“While we are in the middle of a global pandemic, the Trump administration is dramatically weakening safeguards that protect our health and welfare,” Tonachel said. “People are dying of virus-inflicted respiratory illness, and the administration is acting to make the air dirtier.”

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