AG Nessel Files Lawsuit Challenging Federal Government's Reckless Rollback of National Clean Car Standards 

Contact: Ryan Jarvi 517-335-7666
Agency: Attorney General

May 27, 2020

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined a coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s final rule that rolls back the national Clean Car Standards. The previous standards required appropriate and feasible improvements in fuel economy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars and light trucks. Since their introduction in 2010, these standards have saved consumers money, reduced harmful emissions and helped protect the health of communities. The federal government’s misguided Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) Rule stops this progress in its tracks, hurting the economy and public health at a time when the country can least afford it.  

In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule unlawfully violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.   

“The Trump administration touted the SAFE Vehicles Rule as giving the American people better access to safer, more affordable vehicles that are cleaner for the environment. But it does none of these things. Instead, this rule sabotages investment in technology that is better for the environment and slashes incentives to increase fuel efficiency which is better for drivers,” said Nessel. “In joining these other states to fight the current administration’s rollback of the national Clean Car Standards, I’m keeping my pledge to fight against actions that jeopardize the progress we’ve made in fighting against climate change. This is a fight the American people can’t afford to lose.”  

Michigan is home to the nation’s “Big Three” automakers – General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In 2019, 17 percent of all U.S. vehicle production and 11 percent of North American vehicle production occurred in Michigan, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber. The state is also home to 72 percent – or $14 billion – of the nation’s business-funded automotive research development. 

In addition, 21 original equipment manufacturers have headquarters or technology centers in Michigan, and 96 of the top 100 automotive suppliers to North America have a presence in the state – 60 of those have headquarters here. 

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the California Air Resources Board and car manufacturers established a unified national program harmonizing greenhouse gas emission standards and fuel efficiency standards. Two years later, the agencies extended the national program to model years 2017-2025 vehicles. As part of the program, California and the federal agencies agreed to undertake a midterm evaluation to determine if the greenhouse gas emission standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be maintained or revised. In January 2017, the EPA completed the midterm evaluation and issued a final determination affirming that the existing standards were appropriate and would not be changed.   

The following year, the federal government took its first step toward dismantling the national Clean Car Standards by reversing the final determination with a new mid-term evaluation that alleged the standards were no longer appropriate or feasible. The Trump administration later made its rollback proposal official, despite the fact that the auto industry was currently on track to meet or exceed the Clean Car Standards.  

On March 31, the final rule rolling back the Clean Car Standards was announced. The rule takes aim at the corporate average fuel efficiency standards, requiring automakers to make only minimal improvements to fuel economy—on the order of  1.5 percent annually instead of the previously anticipated annual increase of approximately 5 percent. The rule also guts the requirements to reduce vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions, allowing hundreds of millions of metric tons of avoidable carbon emissions into our atmosphere over the next decade. 

In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the Trump administration's rollback of the national Clean Car Standards is unlawful because, among other things: 

  • The EPA and NHTSA’s rollbacks violate the statutory text and congressional mandates they are bound by; and 
  • The EPA and NHTSA improperly and unlawfully relied on an analysis riddled with errors, omissions and unfounded assumptions in an attempt to justify their desired result. 

Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Also joining in filing this lawsuit: the California Air Resources Board, the Cities of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Denver, and the Counties of San Francisco and Denver. 

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