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When the next step in the road to 35 mpg by 2020 CAFE standards was announced recently, those in the know made it clear that the Obama administration's upcoming goal of 27.3 mpg by 2011 would not be hard for automakers to meet. In fact, the 2007 average was already 31.3, so the 2011 goal would not require any change in product lineup (more difficult changes are scheduled to come into effect down the line). The 2011 standards were so light, in fact, that the Center for Biological Diversity took the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation to court last week, saying that the Obama administration's standards "ignore greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis, are illogical, illegal, and very disappointing from a president who has promised to make the United States a leader in the fight against global warming."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Center filed suit in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to push the 2011 standards to "the maximum feasible level, in light of current technology, economic impact, and the nation's need to conserve energy." Read the Center's press release after the jump.

[Source: Center for Biological Diversity, San Francisco Chronicle]


Lawsuit Challenges Obama Fuel Economy Standards

National Gas-mileage Standard for Cars, Trucks, SUVs Weaker Than Bush Proposal, Fails to Account for Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO- The Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit to strike down the Obama administration's corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for cars, trucks, and SUVs for model year 2011. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act requires miles-per-gallon standards be set at the "maximum feasible level," yet the Obama rule sets a significantly lower standard than proposed by the Bush administration in 2008, and is much lower than current standards in Europe, Japan, China, and other countries.

The lawsuit was filed against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The Obama rule, issued last Friday, requires that passenger cars achieve only 30.2 mpg and that SUVs and pick-up trucks achieve only 24.1 mpg in 2011. Both these numbers are lower than Bush's proposal of 31.2 mpg for passenger cars and 25 mpg for SUVs and light trucks. It will result in millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions more than the Bush proposal.

"Reducing the proposed fuel economy standards is a step backwards from the clean energy future President Obama has promised," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These low standards, which ignore greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis, are illogical, illegal, and very disappointing from a president who has promised to make the United States a leader in the fight against global warming."

The current European and Japanese standards are about 43.3 and 42.6 mpg, respectively. China's current standard is 35.8.

"The technology for better, smarter, safer vehicles exists today," said Siegel. "The U.S. auto industry is collapsing in large part because it has rejected new, more efficient technologies. These standards embrace instead of reversing this failed approach."

The transportation sector accounts for about a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and any rational plan to address the climate crisis must achieve dramatic fuel economy improvements. Despite the existing legal mandate from the Energy Policy and Conservation Act that the standards be set at the "maximum feasible level," the U.S. standards lag far below current standards in Europe, Japan, China, and other countries.

"The Obama standards keep the U.S. in last place when it comes to fuel economy," said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School, who is representing the Center in the case. "This lawsuit will force the administration to live up to its promise to lead the way in technological innovation and greenhouse gas reductions."

The new standards come in response to a federal appeals court decision won by the Center and others in 2007 striking down the Bush standards issued in 2006. The court ruled that the standards failed to adequately consider the vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions. As the Bush administration was formulating new standards, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in December 2007, which mandates that the agency require the combined car and truck fleet reach a minimum of 35 mpg by 2020. In May 2008, the Bush administration issued a new proposal. While those standards were well below what are technically feasible and required by law, they were higher than the final decision issued by the Obama administration last week.

The standards finalized by the Obama administration for passenger cars are a full 1 mpg lower than the Bush proposal. The standards for the light truck category, which includes both SUVs and pick-up trucks, are 0.9 mpg lower than the Bush proposal and only .1 mpg higher than the 2006 standard, which was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as inadequate.

The Bush administration postponed finalizing the standards as Congress and the administration developed options for a bailout of U.S. automakers. President Obama issued a memorandum in January directing the Department of Transportation to revise the rule to incorporate relevant technological and scientific considerations. Today's regulations affect only model year 2011; later model years will be the subject of a future rulemaking.

"Obama promised change, but this is change in the wrong direction," said Siegel. "With all the bailout money spent, the U.S. government practically owns the U.S. auto industry, but unfortunately the bankrupt policies of auto industry lobbyists are still behind the wheel at the Department of Transportation."

Table 1: U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy for Model Year 2011

Table 1: U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy for Model Year 2011

2006 Bush Final Rule

2008 Bush Proposed Rule

2009 Obama Final Rule

Passenger Cars




Light Trucks




Combined Fleet




Figure 1: Fuel Economy by Country/Region. Source: Passenger Vehicle Greenhouse Gas and Fuel Economy Standards: A Global Update, ICCT (December, 2008); Bush proposal for 2011-2015 and the final Obama standard of 27.3 mpg has been added to the ICCT graphic.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      It should be illegal to use the courts as a method of getting attention for your press releases.

      This case has no merit. Lack of fulfilling campaign promises are not something the courts can rule on.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let's see;
      1. APrius using gasoline emits 4x that of a Suburban using Cellulosic Ethanol.
      2. A Prius using gasoline emits more than a Suburban using Biomass Sugar "Waste" Ethanol (available today in certain parts of the country).

      Yeah . . . it's the "mileage" that counts.

      Maybe we should spend more effort on alternative fuels instead worrying so much about the gas mileage. A Prius does not pull trailers, work for 4-wheeling, etc. Not all of us live in the city and desire to drive little cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Uh, 79% of the American population lives in Urban areas..... so.... the case that "most people are towing/offroading" is really just silly, and a gigantic myth. You slack jawed yokels are in the minority.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @Laughing Boy - I commented on Cellulosic ethanol and biomass ethanol, not corn ethanol. Both can, and often, do use "waste". This can include the sugar water that comes from processing blueberries, the waste from your home, the wood that logging companies burn (because it is to expensive to haul out of the woods), etc.

        Unlike electric vehicles, mountains do not need to be torn down to get the metals for the batteries. I'm not saying electric vehicles are a bad thing, or that CE is "better", CE is just another positive alternative.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ethanol? Puh-lease! Ethanol releases an even more potent greenhouse gas than gasoline. Plus, ethanol mandates drive up the cost of food and has a net effect if increasing CO2 to boot. Alternate fuel programs are just a scam for corporate welfare.

        • 6 Years Ago
        @Rob - Us "slack jawed yokels" are the reason you have food and drink available every night for dinner. It's not very smart to bite the hand that feeds you.

        BTW: The community I live ranks in the top 5 for highest incomes per person in Oregon, has a fair amount of "million" dollar homes, and ranked as more "educated" than 100% of the cities you speak of.
      • 6 Years Ago
      kind of funny how Bush's proposed standards were stricter than Obama's. and that was not a political statement, i just thought it was amusing.

      that being said, CAFE standards are a joke and car makers have to do pretty much nothing to meet them.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Easy to raise MPG standards on auto makers when everything is going well financially with the country and people are buying Hummers to park in front of their McMansions.
        • 6 Years Ago
        No, no. Don't say that. Bush is bad, bad I tell you. Nothing he did was good. Didn't you get the memo?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Another reason California should secede from the union. Good riddance. See, look, on the graph, California is separate from the United States. They're on the right track.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey jackasses, do you not see that the automakers are doing what they can just to stay in business? This isn't limited to Detroit, as everyone is hurting. They don't have the extra money to meet ridiculous standards yet.

      When the economy actually recovers (whenever that may be) and they've got money coming in, than they can focus on meeting 832.6 mpg.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Re: Swede, That was awesome, good point and like your style. But to be honest, we all know that the $40B is going into the next Chevy Silverado SS or something with a Hemi. If they make the most money on big trucks, I'm guessing they'll spend every penny on supercharged duallies for a quick cash grab rather than beefing up the offering of quality 30+ mpg cars. Unfortunately, the idea of 'investment' is lost in North America, where we demand two-week turnarounds not annual progress.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Loan" is almost an euphemism, since that money ain't coming back.
        • 6 Years Ago
        LOANS are not GIVING money. We GAVE money t o the financial industry...Something to the tune of 350 billion so far, and we haven't GOTTEN anything back.

        The LOANS are mainly to help keep the companies afloat and restructure them so when the economy improves, they will be leaner and stronger.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Didnt you just give them a bunch of money? Like... 40 billion? I'd expect something in return if I were you guys, like meeting a fuel efficiency standard that the rest of the world passed decades ago.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Which is why the Volt and Cruze are on their way. Pretty sure those don't have duallies. Neither do the Phoenix V6 engines, which are said to be some of the most advanced in the world. Also, I'm pretty sure the car platforms Chrysler wants to use from Fiat won't have Hemis in them. Also don't think any of those, including the 200C, qualify as big trucks.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I see the brainwashed Green loons can't really believe that the US toxic emission regulations are the toughest in the world The American auto fleet in being, is the cleanest in the world. The wonderful EU toxic emissions regulation are not even planned to match the US standards post 2030.

      The politically motivated wars a against non toxic and harmless emissions like H2O and CO2 are only tougher in the EU as the need to make a show of their stupid green ideas. If EU regulations were tougher, their diesels would be here in the US bu they are massively tougher here, and those pollution pigs are not allowed or legal here.

      I have news for you there is no scientific evidence that CO2 will do much of anything. Post 200 scientific research increasingly makes the fears of some non-quantitative scientific suppositions in the 1950s as purely harmless fears.

      There is no Global Warming and they admitted it by re-naming it to "Climate Change" and hasn't been any for 11 years after only a warming of 19 years after a cooling of some 24 years. There are no ill effects from a slight warming, and with a little reflection, any one knows it,

      Just what is the great killer of billiions the "Great Cull" that the idiot Lovelock screeches about? There are none.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Well, the Ninth Circuit is always a wild card, but this lawsuit is beyond ridiculous. The President is well within his established powers to set CAFE wherever he wishes and none of this has any bearing on the intended purpose of higher MPG regulations, which was to ween people off of foreign oil.

      In fact, what I'm hoping, is that the court finds CAFE unconstitutional altogether.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Thank you BoxerFanatic!

        It boggles my mind how many people are unaware of the simple fact that our President - as the chief executive - cannot (and should not) enact any laws. Nor should his appointed executives. That is a power reserved to the legislative branch, as was clearly spelled out by the Founding Fathers.

        Yes, there are check and balances (the President's veto power, for example) in between the branches, but excutives - by definition - cannot enact laws.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually it is not within the President's powers. It is an abomination that the President gets elected, and evaluated as being a separate co-equal legislator. The executive branch is not intended to be a third house of congress, with one primary member and his support staff.

        The President is the chief executive, not the chief legislator, and even the chief legislator of the house, the Speaker, and the President of the senate, nor the Senate Majority Leader, don't have carte blanche without a majority vote of the legislature.

        That is the point of republican government, nobody has carte blanche, at least when they play by the rules. But the rules have been out the window for a long, long time.

        It is arguable that regulating private enterprise for this reason is constitutional or not, but the precedent for huge government regulation of the private sector is an avalanche that has been rolling down hill for more than a century, at the least.

        I see no enumerated power that says that the government can regulate this that and the other thing, because they feel like it. This isn't criminal law. People aren't committing fraud if they just happen not to be Super-Green.

        If private groups, like the ones bringing the lawsuit, want greenie-mobiles, then they should advertise, and publicize lists of cars that do well, and advocate for people to buy them.

        The long arm of the law has become a bludgeon for policy-minorities to leverage the government against other people's wishes. That is never what the federal government, or state government, or any just government should be doing.

        That is the rule of a few people, wrapped in the law. Not the rule of law agreed upon by the people through the legislative process.

        But it is so ingrained because it has been allowed for so long, that people don't care anymore, and have learned to live with their legal yokes, instead of refusing them, or throwing them off.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Now every time I hear, once again, that California is the leading power of the environmental automobile culture, I can have a huge laugh! :")
      • 6 Years Ago
      MPG standards are a joke and shouldn't even exist. Let the customer choose how efficient they want their car to be with their $$$$$$. Screw any group (especially from San FranSICKO) that thinks the standards are too low.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What good is it going to do if they sue toe administration?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Well that's because EVERYONE else is using a different method of calculating MPG cycle....if they use our methods, their current MPG would be extremely loww
      • 6 Years Ago
      How about we cut California from the US and send all the greenies over there to have a place to worship the trees and smoke pot all they want?

      I am all for having 100mpg cars but dont try to strong arm the rest of the people..

      But on a serious note

      This "green" movement has become like religion everyone has their own beliefs, and everyone is trying to hammer their beliefs on to others and just like religion no one can proof or deny each other beliefs because there's evidence satisfying all theories so in the end its just a choice of what you choose to believe..

      there's 1001 scientist with phds and they are all in limbo as to be able to determined the earth and climate change but their are tools that choose to believe Al Gore? That goes to show you the level of education in this country bunch of tools..
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