Ruling on Fuel Economy is a Victory for Consumers and the Environment

Posted:  11/15/2007

Read the Court's decision

Read Public Citizen’s Press Release

Learn more about Cheney's Sliding Scale

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Today, the Ninth Circuit Court threw out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) rule on the fuel economy of light trucks - a category that includes SUVs, minivans and pick-up trucks – saying that manufacturers can do better.

The court ruled on the side of consumer and environmental groups who believed that the Bush administration's 2006 fuel economy regulations for light trucks were far too lenient and arbitrary.  These petitioners included Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, National Resource Defense Council, and 11 states and the District of Columbia.

This ruling lets the automotive industry know that it needs to do more to curb global warming by limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  NHTSA now has to draft a new rule that is an improvement on the earlier, weak regulation.

There is an array of reasons why the agency’s ruling was struck down.  Specifically:

  • It failed to adequately consider the reduction of carbon emissions from vehicles

  • It failed to close the SUV loophole

  • NHTSA needs to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement to measure the environmental impacts of its rule

  • It failed to apply any fuel economy standards to vehicles between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds

  • And it included an arbitrary "sliding scale" for vehicles where fuel economy would vary by the size of the vehicle without any "backstop" to ensure that the Bush administration's scheme would not result in a downward slide in actual vehicle fuel economy.

This last point represented a sinister attempt by Vice President Dick Cheney to manipulate the rulemaking by allowing larger vehicles more freedom to pollute.  Public Citizen exposed these meetings of Cheney's staff with NHTSA officials where the agency was pressured into accepting a sliding scale.  This system would mean that the larger a vehicle gets, the lower the fuel economy standard.  This would create an incentive for manufacturers to build more behemoths.

By declaring the sliding scale arbitrary and the NHTSA rule inadequate, the court has created an opportunity for real fuel economy standards to emerge that will benefit consumers at the pump and the environment as a whole.