Trump Administration Sued for Gutting Clean Car Standards

May 27, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2020) – Environmental advocates filed lawsuits today in federal court against the Trump administration for its illegal rollback of clean car and fuel economy standards. The administration’s rule is based on massive technical and economic errors – and fails to meet core legal requirements.

The vehicle-emission and fuel-economy standards issued under the Obama administration slashed climate-changing air pollution and cut America’s oil dependence while saving drivers $90 billion at the pump. It’s the single largest action the federal government has taken to address climate change.  

The 12 groups (listed below) sued the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in separate lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“These illegal rollbacks mean more air pollution that harms our health and fuels the climate crisis, while sucking billions of dollars more out of Americans’ pockets at the pump,” said Ben Longstreth, senior attorney for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

“The Trump administration’s reckless reversal of the clean car standards is riddled with mathematical and logical errors, according to the administration’s own economists,” said Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club’s Chief Climate Counsel. “This flawed rule will increase pollution, endanger public health, cut auto jobs, and further burden American families with higher fueling costs. The Sierra Club has fought for strong clean car standards for decades, and today’s filing is the latest in years of advocacy for climate action that protects people and the planet.”

“The Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Car Standards will hurt Americans, increase harmful pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, and cost consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump,” said EDF lead attorney Peter Zalzal. “The rollback is deeply and fundamentally flawed, it is inconsistent with the agencies’ legal duty to reduce harmful pollution and conserve fuel, and we look forward to vigorously challenging it in court.”

“When the Trump administration puts polluters before people, we take them to court and win. The clean cars standards were a straightforward, cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution and combat the climate crisis. We’ll keep holding this administration accountable for these unlawful rollbacks,” said Paul Cort, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the Sierra Club in these cases.

“The Trump administration’s rollback of Clean Car Standards would be wrong-headed and unlawful in the best of times, but is especially irresponsible now during a national public health emergency with the economy falling,” said Rob Michaels, senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The record is filled with overwhelming evidence that the 2012 standards were not only feasible for the auto industry, but they would have created more jobs and reduced dangerous air pollution, saving thousands of lives, compared to the weak new Trump standards. We look forward to challenging the Trump Administration’s reckless and short-sighted rollback in court.”

“The agencies have abandoned their statutory responsibilities to reduce emissions of harmful pollutants and maximize fuel economy to pursue other priorities dictated by the administration’s deregulatory agenda,” said Scott Nelson, attorney for Public Citizen. “But even the rigged cost-benefit analysis that supposedly justifies their actions shows that the rollback of these standards will harm consumers and the environment without achieving any other benefits that could conceivably justify the agencies’ choice.”

“The administration’s final rule that rolls back vehicle standards isn’t just an effort to undo the most significant and successful climate policy on the books. It’s also an absolute travesty of a regulatory process,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “In their rush to gut vehicle standards, these agencies abandoned their mission, ignored the evidence, sidelined experts, cut corners, and wound up with an indefensible new rule that will cost consumers $200 billion in extra gasoline costs and result in billions of tons of additional emissions of the heat trapping gases that cause global warming.”

“COVID-19 has laid bare the tragic impact toxic emissions and air pollution can have on our health,” said Emily Green, senior attorney at CLF. “Rolling back rules designed to create cleaner air and reduce climate-damaging emissions defies reason – and the law. We must hold this administration accountable for its continued attacks on our health and our environment.”

“EPA’s own analysis shows that this will reverse climate progress. The clean car standards should protect our climate, our health and the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Morgan Folger, Clean Cars campaign director with Environment America. “This plan is unacceptable. Not only does it fail to adequately address the climate crisis — it sets us back years when we have no time to lose.”


The 12 groups that joined together to file today’s lawsuits are: Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Communities for a Better Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Public Citizen, Inc., Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Since the clean car and fuel economy standards were issued in 2010, the auto industry has thrived, achieving record sales, while drivers saved $90 billion in fuel costs. But the rollback from the EPA and NHTSA, issued at the end of March, will cause at least 867 million metric tons more carbon dioxide pollution, equivalent to the annual emissions of 216 coal plants. And it will cost consumers at least $175 billion in additional fuel costs, according to the EPA’s own calculations.Separately, the administration has tried to block California and other states from setting more ambitious emission standards. That unprecedented move has also been challenged in court.

The lawsuits are available here and here.

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