In keeping with his promise to sue the Trump administration at every chance he gets, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed his 25th lawsuit against the administration — this time against the Environmental Protection Agency for rescinding Obama-era standards designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy.
On Tuesday, May 1, Ferguson joined 16 other states in challenging the EPA’s plans to revoke 2012 rules that would increase the fuel economy and reduce the vehicle emissions for cars and light duty trucks produced between 2022-2025. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA originally created the rules for vehicles made between 2017-2025, and stipulated that standards would become increasingly more rigid over time.
A mid-term review of the standards verified that the rules were still appropriate for the industry in a final determination released by the EPA in January 2017. The final determination cited a projected reduction of 540 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions and 1.2 billion barrels in oil consumption over the lifetimes of vehicles produced between 2022-2025. Per EPA projections, cars and light trucks would average about 36 miles per gallon, up from about 10 miles per gallon in 2016 by 2025.
Despite the EPA’s findings under the Obama administration, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced in April that the standards are unachievable, and that the department would withdraw the 2017 final determination.
Tuesday’s petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeks to keep the standards for 2022-2025 vehicles in place. It comes on the heels of a June 2017 letter that Ferguson and other states sent to Pruitt that pledged legal action to maintain the Obama-era rules.
“The vehicle emissions standards protect the environment and save consumers money with better fuel economy,” Ferguson said in a press release. “The EPA once again is ignoring the needs of consumers, its duty to protect the environment and most importantly, the law.”
Former EPA Region 10 Climate Change Advisor Michael Cox, believes that Pruitt has a long, difficult road ahead of him to try to reverse the 2017 final determination. “I think it’s going to be a real challenge to try to overturn some of the science and documentation that were in the first finding to try to say, ‘no, that information in there was faulty, or that we have new information that indicates that the industry can’t meet the standards or it’s not good for the environment,’ ” Cox said.
Cox is concerned that rolling back the standards would be particularly harmful in Washington state, where he said over 40 percent of greenhouse gases originate from the transportation system. “It’s going to have a big impact in terms of greenhouse gases, and our ability to try to be a good actor in the world stage,” he argued. “So I’m really glad that AG Ferguson and other states are fighting back.” Cox concluded that the Trump administration’s attempt to rescind greenhouse gas emission standards is “an abdication … of the EPA’s responsibility, and not just their responsibility, but their mission.”
Emily Johnston, a spokesperson for the nonprofit 350 Seattle, concurred that rescinding the vehicle emissions standards would set a bad precedent, and that it would remove the automotive industry’s incentive “to do the right thing.”
However, she posited that U.S. policy should abandon its focus on gasoline-powered engines altogether. Johnston contends that resources should instead be invested in mass transit, walkable neighborhoods, and electric vehicles in order to mitigate greenhouse gases. “The fact that we are getting wiggly on even higher mpg standards for cars is just nutty. It’s beyond rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s basically just saying, ‘hey everybody, just dive into the water—nice and cold.’ ”