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NHTSA Violated the Law, Lacked Authority to Pre-Empt California’s Authority to Limit Auto Emissions

Nine Environmental, Consumer Groups Ask Court to Throw Out Unlawful Pre-Emption Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had no authority to pre-empt California’s right to regulate auto emissions standards, nine environmental and consumer groups including Public Citizen said in a lawsuit filed today with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The groups are asking the court to throw out a pre-emption rule, published today by NHTSA, declaring that California has no authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. NHTSA’s pre-emption rule serves as the principal basis for an action taken simultaneously by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoking a Clean Air Act waiver that allowed California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and require that automakers include zero emission vehicles in their fleets.

California has regulated auto emissions since 1959. The Clean Air Act later recognized its right to do so, as well as the right of certain other states to adopt California’s standards. California’s current greenhouse gas emissions standards and zero emission vehicles mandate were adopted in 2012, concurrently with the Obama administration’s issuance of EPA greenhouse gas emissions standards and NHTSA fuel economy standards. NHTSA’s pre-emption rule and the EPA’s revocation of California’s Clean Air Act waiver are the first steps in the Trump administration’s plans to roll back greenhouse gas standards for automobiles nationwide.

In today’s lawsuit, the plaintiffs are arguing that the pre-emption rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Clean Air Act, the Energy Independence and Security Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act – and falls outside the scope of the statutory duties and powers of the agencies named in the suit.

“We aren’t going to let California’s standards or the existing federal standards issued by the Obama administration go down without a fight,” said Scott Nelson, attorney for Public Citizen. “NHTSA has no legal basis for its actions. The climate may be heating up, but so is the legal battle.”

The groups filing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists. California and other states also have filed suit in the same court. Challenges to the EPA’s waiver revocation will follow soon.