Environmental Group offers legal challenge to new light truck FE standards
Harry Stoffer - Automotive News - April 7, 2006
San Francisco environmental group is the first to offer a legal challenge to the Bush administration's new light-truck fuel economy standards for the 2008-11 model years.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed its lawsuit Thursday, April 6. That was the same day the rules became official with publication in the government record for legal notices, the Federal Register.
The lawsuit alleges the administration did not adequately address the new rules' environmental impact. The White House did not properly determine the maximum feasible fuel economy for light trucks as federal law requires, the lawsuit says.
The center also claims the federal rules illegally attempt to keep states from imposing their own controls on greenhouse gas emissions.
The group filed its challenge in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Federal regulation of vehicle fuel economy must be challenged in circuit courts of appeal rather than federal district courts. The center is represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.
Clean Air Act
California has adopted greenhouse gas emission limits for cars and light trucks, beginning with the 2009 model year. The state says the Clean Air Act authorizes it to have pollution rules that are tougher than the federal government's.
At least nine other states are implementing the California rules.
Automakers have challenged the rules in federal court, calling them fuel economy regulations in disguise. Only the federal government has that authority through the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, the companies say.
The Bush administration tried to add legal weight to that argument with provisions in the new CAFE rules announced March 30 by U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considered comments from outside groups before adopting the rules. NHTSA believes the rules accurately reflect the intent of Congress, agency spokesman Rae Tyson said in response to the lawsuit.
The CAFE rules require light trucks to average about 24 mpg by 2011. For the first time, they set fuel economy targets for individual truck models based on their size.
The light-truck standard for 2006 is 21.6 mpg and for 2007 is 22.2 mpg. The car standard stays at 27.5 mpg.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative public policy organization, has repeatedly challenged CAFE rules as a threat to public safety. Sam Kazman, the institute's general counsel, says his group is unlikely to challenge the latest rules.
He told Automotive News that CAFE is still "lethal." But the danger is mitigated by the provisions that set different targets for vehicles of different sizes, he says.
Those provisions are intended in part to discourage automakers from downsizing vehicles to meet CAFE standards.