Thursday, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with 11 states and five environmental groups who argued federal regulators ignored the effects of carbon dioxide emissions when determining fuel economy standards for light trucks.
The court sent its decision back to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, for a full Environmental Review of the gas mileage standards.
The ruling, written by Senior Circuit Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, found against the administration's decision to exempt SUVs and light trucks from fuel-economy standards.
"That class 2b trucks have never been regulated by NHTSA is not a reason for not regulating them now. We remand to NHTSA to revisit this issue and promulgate average fuel economy standards for these vehicles, or to provide a validly reasoned basis for continuing to exclude them from the regulation."
Fueling a light truck in St. Paul Minnesota (Photo courtesy American Lung Association of Minnesota)
"This ruling is a big help in holding the Bush administration accountable for its refusal to accept the realities of global warming and forcing it to start taking responsible actions to implement the obvious solutions," said Kassie Siegel, who directs the Climate, Air, and Energy program for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in the case..
"Raising fuel-economy standards is one of the most effective actions the government can take to quickly and significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution. There's no reason SUVs and light trucks should be exempt from these standards," Siegel said.
The case, filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, is consolidated with similar challenges by California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia, the city of New York, and four other public interest groups, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, and Environmental Defense.
The new mileage standards, announced in March 2006, required an increase in the average fuel economy for all passenger trucks sold in the United States from 22.2 miles per gallon to 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010.
Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, adopted four decades ago in response to the Arab oil crisis, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations sets gas mileage standards for motor vehicles. The Bush administration, ordered a one mile per gallon increase, from 22 to 23 miles per gallon by 2010, and exempted SUVs and light trucks.
Plaintiffs argued that the administration violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act by setting low fuel-economy standards of 22.5, 23.1, and 23.5 miles per gallon for upcoming model years 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively.
Plaintiffs also argued that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions and global warming before selecting the low mileage standards.
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. hailed the 9th Circuit's decision striking down national automobile mileage standards, calling it a "stunning rebuke" to the Bush administration's failed energy policies.
Commenting on the decision Brown said, "This decision sends a clear message that the Congress must get serious about combating dangerous foreign oil dependency and global warming. This is a major victory."
"This is an important victory in the fight against global warming," said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the attorney of record on the case. "It's hard to imagine a federal action more significant to the problem of climate change than one which dictates fuel-consumption standards."
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, AAM, an industry association representing the major automotive firms, commented, "Announced more than 19 months ago the MY 2008-2011 light truck fuel economy rule represented the largest fuel economy increase in the history of the CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] program. It has become the basis for product planning through 2011. Any further changes to the program would only delay the progress that manufacturers have made towards increasing fleet wide fuel economy."
"The federal government and the automobile industry should have embraced higher fuel economy standards years ago," said David Doniger, policy director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and an attorney on the case.
"The U.S. auto industry is having a tough time today because Detroit's top management spent years hiding from the future," he said. "Well, the future is now. We have the technology to do this, and it's time we got started."
"Better fuel economy makes this country more secure, cuts dangerous global warming pollution, and saves consumers billions of dollars a year," said Doniger. "With the price of oil creeping up to $100 a barrel we need more efficient cars and trucks."
The AAM says its members are working towards more efficient vehicles. "Automakers support aggressive fuel economy increases that would raise the standards for all vehicles to as much as 35 miles per gallon by 2022. We share the goal of an energy bill and CAFE standard that is good for the consumer, environment and energy security. We continue to believe such a bill can be reached with industry support."
"This ruling comes at a key moment in our efforts to avoid the worst impacts of global warming," said Doniger. "The president has ordered the EPA to propose global warming standards by the end of the year, but White House officials are busy trying to water them down. The court's decision is a clear signal that it's time to set serious standards to cut global warming pollution."
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