Appeals court rules against rollback of automaker mileage penalties

Aug. 31 (UPI) — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Monday against a Trump administration attempt to roll back penalties for automakers that don’t meet mileage standards.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had published a final rule on July 26, 2019, which reversed an Obama-era increase to the base rate for the fuel economy standards penalty, saying that the meaning of “civil monetary penalty” was ambiguous under statute. The court found Monday that there is “no ambiguity in the statute” that requires adjustment of penalties for inflation.

“The statutory purpose of the Improvements Act is to adjust civil monetary penalties to keep pace with inflation,” the three-judge panel wrote, noting that inflation “can take the bite out of fines.”

The decision throws out the 2019 rule.

The 2019 rule had sought to roll back penalties for automakers that are charged for every 10th of a mile per gallon they exceed fuel economy standards from $14 for every 10th-mile per gallon, to $5.50.

President Donald Trump’s administration finalized the 2019 rule after the same court ruled it could not delay the increase to penalties for automakers that do not meet mileage standards.

The Sierra Club applauded the decision.

“This is the second time in the last three years that the court has reinstated higher penalties for automakers that the Obama administration issued to comply with NHTSA’s obligation to update the penalty under the Inflation Adjustment Act,” the Sierra Club statement said.

In March, the Trump administration rolled back other Obama-era fuel emission standards aimed at fighting climate change, saying it would lead to cheaper vehicles. The rule reduces the annual increase of stringency for corporate average fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks in the model years 2021-26 from 5% under the Obama administration rule to 1.5%.

California reached an agreement last summer with some major automakers to raise gas mileage and emissions standards, bypassing the Trump administration’s decision to roll back such standards.

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