Trump Draws Fire Over Bow to Auto Industry on Emission Fines

In this Jan. 5, 2015, file photo, Dodge Ram pickup trucks are on display on the lot at Landmark Dodge Chrysler Jeep RAM in Morrow, Ga. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, May 23, 2017, the U.S. government is suing Fiat Chrysler, alleging that some diesel pickup trucks and Jeeps cheat on emissions tests. The Justice Department lawsuit alleges that nearly 104,000 Ram pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 2014 to 2016 model years have software that allows them to emit lower amounts of pollutants during lab tests by the Environmental Protection Agency than during normal driving conditions. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

MANHATTAN (CN) – The Trump administration drew a federal court challenge Thursday for a pirouette on vehicle emissions that is expected to save automakers millions.

President Barack Obama laid the ground for the battle just before leaving office last year, proposing steeper fines for automakers that fail to meet fuel-economy standards.

A $55 fine had been in place since the 1970s for each mile-per-gallon shortfall — which the automakers had to multiple for every vehicle sold in that model year — but the rule adopted in 2016 would cost the companies $140 per shorted mpg.

Since the fuel-economy program went into effect in 1975, according to an article by Bloomberg, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has collected more than $890 million in such penalties.

Just three days before Obama’s new rule was slated to take effect on July 10, 2017, however, the Trump administration instituted an indefinite delay.

The National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity brought a petition Thursday with the Second Circuit to review that action.

In addition to the NHTSA, the petition names Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and NHTSA Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Danielson as respondents.

“President Trump is attacking our successful clean car program from all sides,” NRDC Irene Gutierrez attorney said in a statement announcing the challenge. “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.”

The NHTSA’s July 7 delay of the rule quoted pleas from the Auto Alliance and Global Automakers to adopt more lenient penalties based on ‘‘negative economic impacts.

Trump’s delay means that automakers won’t face the higher fine of $14 per tenth of an mpg until the 2019 model year, which begins in October 2018 for most manufacturers.

The text of the rule, which appeared in the Federal Register, cited the Obama administration’s failure to “give adequate consideration to all of the relevant issues, including the potential economic consequences of increasing CAFE penalties by potentially $1 billion per year, as estimated in the industry petition.”

Proponents of the stricter regulations called foul meanwhile on Trump’s failure to allow a notice-and-comment period before adopting the delay.

As explained in the Federal Register, Trump appointees said there was no need  for the 30-day comment period “because those procedures are impracticable, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest in these circumstances, where the effective date of the rule is imminent.”

Claiming that the delay harms no one, the rule notes that the delay “the increased penalty rate set forth in the rule would not be applied for current violations, so there is no immediate, concrete impact from the delay.”

Trump’s delay followed news this spring that Volkswagen would pay more than $17 billion in settlements and another $4.3 billion in penalties for installing emissions-cheating software in 580,000 vehicles sold stateside.

Refusing to comment on the challenge, a representative for the NHTSA cited a policy regarding pending litigation

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