States' lawsuit vs Trump over car emissions rules could alter industry, set precedent for future executive actions

By John Sammon | May 26, 2018

An attempt by a group of state attorneys general to bar the Trump administration from undoing Obama administration rules related to vehicle fuel economy could have far-reaching implications for the future of the auto industry, while also establishing legal precedent over the ability of succeeding presidential administrations to implement policies, particularly if they differ wth environmental bureaucratic rules made by the EPA.

CHICAGO — An attempt by a group of state attorneys general to bar the Trump administration from undoing Obama administration rules related to vehicle fuel economy could have far-reaching implications for the future of the auto industry, while also establishing legal precedent over the ability of succeeding presidential administrations to implement policies, particularly if they differ wth environmental bureaucratic rules made by the EPA.

Several states - led by California, but including Illinois, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia - are asking the courts to bar President Donald Trump’s attempt to roll back fuel mileage standards established through the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Barack Obama..

“The outcome could influence the types of vehicles that automakers offer for sale, as well as how aggressively automakers pursue the introduction of electric vehicles into the marketplace,” said Peter A. Tomasi, an attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, who has been closely following the legal challenges and potential impact on the industry.

On May 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, announced the lawsuit. During an event to announce the suit, Brown said Trump’s plan to revise emission standards through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for cars made between 2022 and 2025 would harm the public's health, according to a CBS News report.


Peter Tomasi   Foley & Lardner

Standards for vehicle so-called greenhouse emissions help to set fuel mileage rules. According to the CBS News report, the revised Trump standards would roll back the Obama administration's rules requiring cars to 36 miles per gallon by 2025, or 10 miles per gallon over existing standards.

Tomasi said California and other states that have adopted similar standards for their states face a loss of authority to issue their own emissions standards.

“The states face the loss of the right to require compliance with those standards for vehicles sold within their jurisdiction,” he said.

Tomasi indicated the issue has the potential to set a precedent on the question of whether one president's executive orders or bureaucratic rules can essentially become the law of the land, unassailable by succeeding presidents, whose policy priorities and positions may differ significantly. 

“The lawsuit cuts right to the questions,” he said.

Tomasi said emissions rules have been challenged previously, most recently by the administration of former President George W. Bush, who "tried to roll back a finding made in the last days of the Clinton administration that certain electric generation units should be regulated under the act’s requirements for hazardous air pollutants."

The Bush administration's “rule-making was thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals when the court found that certain determinations made by the EPA can only be undone through other processes authorized by the act— finding that in certain cases the Clean Air Act does not allow the EPA to reconsider its prior findings. The provisions at issue in this case (Trump) differ from that example, but there is a precedent for the courts to make such a finding," Tomasi said.

Tomasi said automakers have to make cars that meet the environmental standards in place.

“Given the several year lead time to design vehicles and put them into production,  the case could change what is for sale in automotive showrooms in the next few years,” he said.

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Foley & Lardner LLP State of California The White House U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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