Thursday, August 21, 2008

Center For Biological Diversity v. NHTSA

Aug 18: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 06-71891, 06-72317, 06-72694, 06-73807, and 06-73826. The Appeals Court vacated and withdrew its opinion filed on November 15, 2007 [See WIMS 11/15/07] and denied respondents’ petition for an en banc rehearing as moot. The Appeals Court replaced its opinion filed simultaneously with an order and new opinion.

In the original case before the Appeals Court, eleven states, the District of Columbia, the City of New York, and four public interest organizations petitioned for review of a rule issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) entitled “Average Fuel Economy Standards for Light Trucks, Model Years 2008-2011,” 71 Fed. Reg. 17,566 (Apr. 6, 2006) (Final Rule) (codified at 49 C.F.R. pt. 533). Pursuant to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA), 49 U.S.C. §§ 32901-32919 (2007), the Final Rule sets corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light trucks, defined by NHTSA to include many Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), minivans, and pickup trucks, for Model Years (MYs) 2008-2011. For MYs 2008-2010, the Final Rule sets new CAFE standards using its traditional method, fleet-wide average (Unreformed CAFE). For MY 2011 and beyond, the Final Rule creates a new CAFE structure that sets varying fuel economy targets depending on vehicle size and requires manufacturers to meet different fuel economy levels depending on their vehicle fleet mix (Reformed CAFE).

The Petitioners, the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD), et al, argued that NHTSA's Final Rule was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the EPCA; that the Environmental Assessment was inadequate; and a full Environmental Impact Statement was required. NHTSA disputed all charges. The Ninth Circuit ruled in the original opinion that, "the Final Rule is arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the EPCA in its failure to monetize the value of carbon emissions, failure to set a backstop, failure to close the SUV loophole, and failure to set fuel economy standards for all vehicles in the 8,500 to 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) class. We also hold that the Environmental Assessment was inadequate and that Petitioners have raised a substantial question as to whether the Final Rule may have a significant impact on the environment. Therefore, we remand to NHTSA to promulgate new standards as expeditiously as possible and to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement."

In its new order and opinion, the Ninth Circuit the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Administration’s request to revisit the court’s November 2007 decision. The ruling was based in part on the administration’s failure to analyze the impact of the standards on greenhouse-gas emissions and global warming. Existing law requires the administration to set fuel-economy standards at the “maximum feasible level” and to fully analyze the environmental consequences of the standards chosen. In a release, CBD commented on the ruling saying, ". . .the court affirmed the decision in every significant respect, making only minor modifications.

Among other changes, the Ninth Circuit clarified that NHTSA must promulgate new standards as expeditiously as possible and prepare "either a revised Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement." [emphasis added] On this issue the Appeals Court said, "The distinction -- between cases where it is appropriate to order immediate preparation of an EIS and those where it is not -- is implicit in this circuit’s NEPA jurisprudence, and has been explicitly recognized elsewhere. . . So, if there is uncertainty over whether the proposed project may have a significant impact, including uncertainty caused by an incomplete administrative record or an inadequate EA, the court should ordinarily remand for the agency to either prepare a revised EA or reconsider whether an EIS is required. . . Whether to require an EIS now is a very close question. Petitioners’ evidence demonstrates, overwhelmingly, the environmental significance of CO2 emissions and the effect of those emissions on global warming. How NHTSA can, on remand, prepare an EA that takes proper account of this evidence and still conclude that the 2006 Final Rule has no significant environmental impact is questionable. . . We nonetheless give the benefit of the doubt to NHTSA and decline to order the immediate preparation of an EIS . . ."

Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity and an attorney on the case said, “As the Court of Appeals has affirmed, the law requires the Bush administration to set fuel-economy standards at the maximum feasible level in order to conserve oil, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and protect consumers from increasing energy prices.Yet the administration’s current proposal still allows oil use and greenhouse gas emissions to spiral upwards while protecting nothing but the profits of the oil and auto industries.”

In the release including a chart of the Administration's Proposed Fuel Economy Standards for MY 2011-2015, Mickey Moritz, another CBD staff member said, “According to the Bush administration, we should strive to achieve lower fuel economy in 2015 than cars on the road achieve today. We can and must do better, and we will hold this administration accountable for complying with the law and requiring automakers to provide state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient vehicles.” CBD said, "The administration kept the proposed standards low by employing numerous assumptions that defy common sense and violate the law."

For example, CBD indicates that Administration officials assumed that gas will cost $2.36 per gallon in 2020 and $2.51 in 2030, whereas increasing gas prices by 88 cents per gallon in 2016 would have increased the gas-mileage standard by nearly 7 mpg for passenger cars. The officials also assumed that technological solutions available today, such as the use of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, could not be employed by automakers for model years 2011-2015. And the officials assumed that automakers "need not and would not change" their existing vehicle redesign schedules in order to provide more fuel-efficient vehicles. The NHTSA's comment period on its Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for New Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards also ended on August 18.

Access the complete opinion (
click here). Access a release from CBD with links to additional information (click here). Access the NHTSA's docket including its notice, supporting information and public comments (click here).