A federal court ruled today that the Department of Transportation must implement a new, inflation-adjusted fine for failure to comply with federal fuel efficiency standards.

This ruling confirms that automakers will have to pay the full, updated fine for failing to meet efficiency standards.  The Department of Transportation’s attempted rule would have let them pay less than 40% of the legally required fine.

The penalty for automakers not meeting efficiency standards was originally set in the 1970s, at $5 per tenth of a mile per gallon.  It was updated in 1997, but only slightly, increasing the penalty to $5.50.  In 2016, the NHTSA finally recommended that the fine be updated to a reasonable level based on inflation calculations, up to $14.  However, that adjustment was blocked last summer, which led to this lawsuit being filed by the NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club.

According to the NRDC, full implementation of the 2012-2025 fuel efficiency standards would avoid production of 570 million tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 85 million cars off the roads or closing 140 coal-fired powerplants.  Reducing the fine to less than half of the legally required level would have given automakers a cheap way to skip out on compliance with the law, and would have jeopardized these emissions reductions.

This court win makes sure automakers have to pay the full cost of noncompliance. This will result in automakers having to take fuel-efficient cars more seriously lest they end up paying large fines for producing too many gas guzzlers.

Electrek’s Take

Today’s win is another blow to Mr. Trump’s anti-environment and anti-consumer agenda, and great news for people with lungs and drivers who want to save money on fuel.

However, recently the Environmental “Protection” Agency, run by industry shill Scott Pruitt, moved to eliminate federal fuel efficiency standards for 2022-2025 model year cars which were set by President Obama in 2009.  Pruitt moved to eliminate these rules even though the EPA found in 2016 that those standards could be met both earlier and with lower-than-projected costs.

It should be noted that Pruitt pays below-market rent to live at an oil lobbyist’s house and illegally spent $43,000 of taxpayer money on a soundproof booth in his office to have secret conversations with his buddies from polluting industries, and is currently the target of no less than 10 federal investigations into his corrupt practices.  Over the course of his career in Oklahoma state politics, he received over $270,000 in contributions from the oil and gas lobby.

The EPA’s rollback came despite roughly 90% of Americans supporting higher fuel efficiency standards.  Instead, the EPA’s decision responds directly to the wishes of auto-industry lobbyists.  Virtually every automaker, even the ones who claim to be “all-in” on electric cars like GM and VW, had been lobbying the federal government to make this anti-consumer decision and reverse fuel efficiency standards, and they got their wish.

But the EPA’s change will also be opposed by action from California and the CARB states, who have announced their intention to go forward with implementation of higher fuel efficiency standards regardless of what the EPA says.  Pruitt has floated the idea of fighting California over emissions standards, a fight which California Governor Jerry Brown will not back down from.

Nevertheless, standards remain in place for 2012-2021 model year cars, and as a result of today’s court win, automakers must pay the full fine if they do not meet required fuel efficiency levels with those cars.