Since 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency has had the authority to set national emissions standards for automakers limiting the hazardous air pollutants from cars. And under prior regulations, manufacturers were fined $55 for each mile per gallon they fell short of annual Corporate Average Fuel Economy targets set by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fines that multiplied by the number of offending vehicles sold that year.
Congress upped these "gas guzzler" fines as part of an across-the-board inflation assessment in 2015, to $140 per mpg shortfall, but the NHTSA under President Donald Trump tried to delay implementation of the new rule. That effort was blocked by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York this week, meaning the fines will go into effect.
Fines in Due Course
The NHTSA decided to delay the fine increase indefinitely last July, and the agency and the Trump administration faced lawsuits from environmental groups and several states, New York, California, and Vermont among them. The three-judge panel of the Second Circuit did not fully explain its reasoning in the brief order issued Monday, but promised a full opinion "in due course."
"The fuel efficiency standards penalty rule is a common sense measure that would protect consumers' pocketbooks while reducing the carbon emissions that harm our health and drive climate change," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement. "Today's court order is a big win for New Yorkers' and all Americans' health and environment. As we've proven again and again, when the Trump administration puts special interests before public health and our environment, we'll take them to court -- and we will win."
Fuel Efficiency Fights
The Trump administration and EPA head Scott Pruitt have consistently tried to roll back emissions standards for vehicles. The Department of Transportation tried to scrap the increased fines entirely in March, arguing that the fuel efficiency fines are not covered by the 2015 law at issue. And Pruitt officially announced earlier this month that current emissions standards are "not appropriate and should be revised."
Expect future court battles if either of those actions happen.