Three environmental groups filed suit after the Trump administration attempted to delay an increase in penalties for failing to meet CAFE standards.

Three major environmental groups have challenged a decision by the Trump administration to delay a rule that would increase the penalties on carmakers that violate federal fuel economy by failing to meet changes in the corporate average fuel economy or CAFE standards.

The challenge by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity represent an escalation of the war between environmentalists and the Trump administration, which is searching for ways to get around fuel economy rules imposed during the Obama administration. The suit was filed with U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The three groups sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, saying any delay is letting auto manufacturers off with what amounts to little more than a “slap on the wrist” if they fail to meet standards that are saving drivers money at the pump and reducing pollution.

The Trump administration slipped the proposed rule change into the Federal Register back in July.

(Attorneys General threaten to sue of Trump administration rolls back CAFE. For the story, Click Here.)

The lawsuit states NHTSA lacked authority to delay the penalty increase, and illegally ignored process and transparency requirements that give the public a chance to comment on the decision. Last year, the Obama administration increased the penalty rate from $5.50 to $14 per tenth of a mile per gallon, to account for inflation.

Environmental groups filed suit to prevent the Trump administration from delaying CAFE fines for automakers.

“President Trump is attacking our successful clean car program from all sides. Letting automakers off the hook for breaking the law comes at the expense of consumer savings and healthier communities,” said Irene Gutierrez, an attorney with NRDC’s Energy and Transportation Program.

“As the recent Volkswagen scandal showed, some automakers are more than willing to place their profits ahead of protecting public health. Laws must have teeth to hold bad actors accountable,” Gutierrez said.

“Unfortunately, we have an administration that is doing the automakers’ bidding, instead of delivering on its responsibility to protect the public’s health and welfare. If the federal government won’t do its job, NRDC will step in to protect public health and uphold the law,” she said.

(Click Here to see how CARB and the EPA were ready to face off in an emissions showdown.)

The NRDC and other environmental groups are also challenging the Trump administration’s effort to re-open an administrative review of the 2021–25 fuel-economy standards that would push the CAFE requirements for corporate fleets to 50 miles per gallon. The Trump administration maintains the Obama administration’s “mid-term” review of the standards was totally inadequate.

The automakers, led by companies such as General Motors, also have complained that re-opening of the mid-term review, which is supposed to examine the state of current technology to determine whether the 50-mpg rule is feasible.

The State of California also has opposed re-opening the mid-term review, which could serve as the first step toward revising the standard downward.

Unlike in other areas, however, the federal government doesn’t have complete authority over the fuel-economy standards, which are closely linked to the clean-air standards over which the state of California has substantial influence.

(Automakers do about face on CAFE standards. Click Here for the story.)

In addition, while automakers have long fought against CAFE standards, they are also under increasing pressure from governments in Asia and Western Europe to move towards zero emissions in the years to come.

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