Biden abandons legal defense of Trump-era auto standards

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 2, 2021

In a motion last night, lawyers for EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to freeze consolidated lawsuits over part of the rollback while the new administrations considers its next steps.

The request comes after President Biden signed a Jan. 20 executive order directing the heads of federal agencies to review — and potentially rescind — all environmental rules finalized under Trump.

“In light of this Presidential directive, the One National Program Action is under close scrutiny by the Federal Agencies, and the positions taken by the Agencies in this litigation to date may not reflect their ultimate conclusions,” lawyers for EPA and NHTSA wrote in their motion.

“The Federal Agencies should be afforded the opportunity to fully review the Action consistent with the Executive Order and the Agencies’ respective statutory authorities,” they added.

The Trump administration divided its rollback of clean car standards — formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule — into two parts.

In the first part, EPA revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which gave the state the legal authority to set tougher tailpipe pollution rules than those of the federal government.

In the second part, EPA and NHTSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, significantly weakened the greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars established by former President Obama.

Green groups, blue states and other interests sued over both changes. Yesterday’s motion stemmed from litigation over the first part of the SAFE Vehicles Rule.

The Biden administration is expected to restore California’s Clean Air Act waiver and craft aggressive clean car standards that spur the adoption of electric vehicles.

Yesterday’s motion by the Biden team is part of a broader move by the new administration to abandon defenses of Trump-era environmental rules. Lawyers for EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, asked to freeze litigation over the Trump administration’s “Waters of the U.S.,” or WOTUS, rollback last week (E&E News PM, Feb. 1).