NRDC et al. v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration et al.

In September 2017, NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and several states sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for unlawfully suspending an important final rule that would increase penalties for automakers that violate fuel economy standards.

The increased penalty accounts for decades of inflation and impels automakers to design and produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. When these Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were first set in 1975, the penalty was $5 for each tenth of a mile per gallon (mpg) that vehicles in an automaker’s fleet fell short of the applicable standards. In 1997, the penalty was raised slightly, to $5.50. In 2015, Congress required federal agencies to update their penalties to account for inflation. So in 2016, NHTSA updated the CAFE penalty to $14 per tenth of an mpg, using the legally required formula for the inflation adjustment. The Trump administration’s unlawful attempt to reverse that change would have maintained the penalty at $5.50, or less than 40 percent of the required amount—essentially offering manufacturers a cheap license to violate the standards.

Effective enforcement of fuel economy standards is good for consumers, the economy, public health, and the planet. CAFE standards for vehicle model years 2012 to 2025 will reduce oil consumption by 3.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2030. Carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by an amount equivalent to taking 85 million cars off the road. And reports show that by 2025, these standards will create 100,000 jobs and increase GDP by more than $13 billion. 

On April 23, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the Trump administration’s unlawful delay and restored the proper penalty for violations of CAFE standards.

Though the administration lost this battle, their attacks on clean car and fuel economy standards continue. The fight isn’t over.

Last Updated

August 17, 2018



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NRDC and Partners Sue Trump Administration for Unlawful Delay of Fuel Economy Penalties

Natural Resources Defense Council and two other groups today sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accusing it of unlawfully delaying a rule that would increase penalties for carmakers that violate fuel economy standards. The agency's delay is letting auto manufacturers off with a slap on the wrist when they exceed standards that are saving drivers money at the pump and reducing pollution.

September 07, 2017