12 States Say They Will Sue Trump Administration If EPA Rolls Back Vehicle Emissions Standards

The environmental fight between certain states and the Trump administration continues, with more than a dozen attorneys general putting the White House on alert that they will sue if the Environmental Protection Agency moves forward with its plan to undo automotive greenhouse gas emissions standards that the previous administration put in place.

In 2012, the EPA and the Department of Transportation released fuel-efficiency and emissions standards for most vehicles starting in 2015 and continuing through 2025. Even though the auto industry largely supported these standards at the time, the agencies agreed to complete a so-called “Mid-Term Evaluation” (MTE) by April 2018 to determine if the standards should be adjusted for 2022 through 2025 or kept as they are.

The MTE was completed ahead of schedule, with then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy issuing a final determination that the existing standards be improved upon, but ultimately deciding that they should remain as originally set.

Immediately after new EPA chief Scott Pruitt — a former Oklahoma attorney general who had repeatedly sued the EPA and has ties to the oil industry — was confirmed to his job, the auto industry began pushing the Trump administration to rescind this determination and force the EPA, DOT, and the California Air Resources Board to redo the MTE process.

And on March 15, the White House confirmed that it had directed the EPA and other agencies to redo the Mid-Term review, claiming the previous administration had rushed through the process and touting the industry’s favorite figure: a projected cost of $200 billion for complying with the rules (without acknowledging that this cost is spread out over 13 years and across an entire auto industry).

That same day, California Governor Jerry Brown wrote to the two largest auto industry lobbying groups, accusing the industry of breaking its “promise to the American people” by attempting to back away from standards they had agreed to only a few years earlier.

Pruitt wrote to Brown on May 2, claiming that “Like you, I want cleaner and more efficient vehicles” but contending that the previous administration had violated the law by starting the Mid-Term review process too early.

This morning, the attorneys general for 12 states, the District of Columbia, and the head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection wrote to Pruitt to rebut his allegations and warn that they will sue if the EPA ultimately rolls back emissions standards.

The group of AGs — led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman — take issue with Pruitt’s claim that the auto industry wasn’t given enough time to comment during the MTE process, claiming that EPA followed the law exactly when it “provided a 60-day public comment period, assessed those comments, and issued a draft final decision to maintain the current standards. EPA subsequently provided a 30-day comment period on the draft final decision and considered those public comments prior to issuing its final determination.”

They also point out that, in spite of Pruitt’s insistence that drafts of its reports should have been presented to the Office of Management and Budget before being finalized, there is nothing in the rule requiring OMB review of the drafts.

Regarding the timeline of the review process, Pruitt contends that by starting 15 months ahead of the deadline, the EPA was neglecting its obligation to use the most up-to-date data.

However, the AGs argue that the 2012 rule which established the Mid-Term deadlines does not prohibit the EPA from doing this work in advance of the deadline.

“Although EPA is often faulted for missing deadlines, we are unfamiliar with any occasion on which the EPA Administrator has criticized his own agency for fulfilling its regulatory obligations ahead of schedule,” reads the letter. “[T]here are at least three separate reports by scientists, engineers, and other experts analyzing the standards and concluding that they are feasible. The record is clear that appropriate technology exists now for automakers to achieve the current standards for model years 2022-25 at a reasonable cost.”

According to the AGs’ view, “EPA’s midterm evaluation was lawful and fully supported by the record. And in light of the critical public health and environmental benefits the standards will deliver, if EPA acts to weaken or delay the current standards for model years 2022-25, like California, we intend to vigorously pursue appropriate legal remedies to block such action.”

“Any effort to roll back these affordable, achievable, and common-sense vehicle emission standards would be both irrational and irresponsible,” says Schneiderman. “We stand ready to vigorously and aggressively challenge President Trump’s dangerous anti-environmental agenda in court – as we already have successfully done.”

In addition to New York and D.C., attorneys general from Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington signed the letter to Pruitt.

This is not the first time states have threatened or attempted legal action over environmental concerns under the Trump White House.

In early March the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — an industry lobbying group — sued the EPA, asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the agency’s Final Determination, but when it became clear that the EPA intended to drop these standards, California and other states attempted to intervene to defend the regulation.

However, the auto industry simply dropped its case a few days after Pruitt’s announcement, meaning there was no longer a case in which the states could intervene.

Several states also threatened legal action against the Department of Energy when it repeatedly delayed the implementation of new efficiency standards for a variety of products. The Department ultimately agreed to move forward with the previous administration’s finalized regulations for ceiling fan efficiency standards.