D.C. Circuit Underscores EPA Duty to Address Extensive Factual Record Upholding America’s Clean Car Standards

Court dismissed petitions, ruling Trump EPA’s initial decision to rollback standards has no legal effect

October 25, 2019
Shira Langer, slanger@edf.org, (202) 572-3254

(Washington, D.C. – October 25, 2019) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit stressed EPA’s heavy burden to justify its roll back of America’s Clean Car Standards in an opinion issued this morning. The opinion dismissed on procedural grounds challenges to a 2018 Trump EPA decision; in that 2018 decision, the Trump EPA issued a Revised Determination that concluded Clean Car Standards must be weakened and withdrew its 2017 Original Determination upholding the existing Clean Car Standards.

“Today’s judicial ruling that the Trump administration must address the rigorous facts showing the feasibility and extensive benefits of our nation’s clean cars standards establishes an insurmountable burden for Trump’s factually flawed attack on these climate and clean air safeguards,” said Martha Roberts, Senior Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund.

The Court emphasized that “[t]he Original Determination has been withdrawn, but the evidence supporting it stands. If EPA’s rulemaking results in changes to the existing 2012 standards, it will be required to provide a reasoned explanation and cannot ignore prior factual findings and the supporting record evidence contradicting the new policy.” (pg. 21)

The Court specifically cited and relied upon portions of the oral argument in which counsel for EPA acknowledged that the agency’s obligation to justify any departures from the existing standards and its extensive underlying record is wholly unaffected by the 2018 Revised Determination. Instead, the 2017 Determination endorsing the existing standards remains the most recent final agency action for purposes of judicial review of “any future final action.” Op. 17 (citing recording of oral argument at 46:06–12, 47:30–48:52).

The opinion highlighted the extensive record supporting the existing Clean Car Standards, including EPA’s findings, as part of a “1,217-page Draft Technical Assessment Report,” that “[a] wider range of technologies exist[s] for manufacturers to use to meet the MY 2022–2025 standards, and at costs that are similar or lower, than those projected” when the standards were established in 2012. (pg. 10)

The Clean Car Standards are one of our nation’s biggest environmental success stories. They reduce climate pollution, spur fuel efficiency gains, and save families money at the gas pump.

In April 2018, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a Revised Final Determination withdrawing the agency’s prior finding that the standards are feasible and cost effective, and declared that the standards should be rolled back. Pruitt’s determination was based almost entirely on auto industry statements.

EDF – along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Inc., Sierra Club, and Union for Concerned Scientists – asked the D.C. Circuit to review and set aside that Revised Final Determination. A coalition of 18 states and an industry coalition including major power companies and two auto manufacturers also challenged the Revised Final Determination. The court today declined to rule on the merits of these challenges; instead concluding that the 2018 action had no legal effect.

The Trump administration formally proposed to roll back the Clean Car Standards in August 2018, in spite of massive opposition and the pending litigation.

The administration’s own analysis estimates that the rollback will cost 60,000 jobs (see Table VII-5 at pg. 43,265), and independent analysis by Blue Green Alliance concluded that job losses would be even higher. An updated analysis by M.J. Bradley & Associates shows that American families would spend an average of $200 more each year on gas if the administration rolls back the Clean Car Standards – and could spend as much as $500 more each year if gas prices rise. 17 automakers and a bipartisan coalition of 24 governors have called on the administration to withdraw this destructive proposal. Nevertheless, the administration finalized an attack on state clean car standards and signaled its intention to soon finalize a rollback of federal clean car standards.

You can read more about the Clean Car Standards, including all legal briefs, on EDF’s website.

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