Rewrite fuel economy standards, U.S. appeals court rules
A federal appeals court ordered U.S. auto regulators on Thursday to
rewrite fuel economy rules for trucks that went into effect with 2008
models, saying the agency ignored the law and set the standards too low.
The ruling orders the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to
set new rules for trucks as soon as possible. But with automakers
already working on 2012 models and the agency under orders from
President George W. Bush to come up with new rules for models beyond
2012, it’s not clear how much room regulators have to maneuver.
Environmental groups and 11 states sued the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration in 2006 following its decision to set new
standards for trucks through the 2011 model year. The groups argued that
NHTSA’s increase of 1.5 miles per gallon over four years was
insufficient, and that the agency ignored the benefits of reducing
The agency sets fuel economy standards by balancing the cost of higher
standards on automakers and consumers with the benefits in fuel savings.
Despite pleas from environmental groups when it set the standards in
2006, NHTSA put no value on how much carbon dioxide emissions would be
cut by the rules, saying there was no consensus on how much a ton of
carbon was worth.
A lower court ruled for NHTSA, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in
San Francisco found for the states and environmental groups on most of
their arguments. A three-judge panel found that NHTSA should have put
some value on carbon emissions, as it was able to put a cost on other
The agency “cannot put a thumb on the scale by undervaluing the benefits
and overvaluing the costs of more stringent standards,” said Judge Betty
Fletcher in a ruling.
The panel also said NHTSA made several other errors, including not
setting rules for heavy trucks, failing to set a “backstop” for changes
to the system and not closing the SUV loophole that allows sport-utility
vehicles to meet less-stringent standards for trucks rather than those