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Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Donovan Joins Lawsuit to Preserve Stringent Vehicle Emission Standards

September 20, 2019

Contact: Nicholas F. Persampieri, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3171

Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced that his office joined 22 other states, the District of Columbia, and the nation’s two largest cities to file a lawsuit challenging a major component of the federal government’s plan to roll back greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. The lawsuit challenges the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) declaration that California’s greenhouse gas emission standards, which have been adopted by Vermont and 11 other states in addition to California, are preempted by federal law. California’s greenhouse gas emission standards would dramatically reduce the emissions from automobiles into our environment.

“The climate crisis is affecting Vermonters right now,” said Attorney General Donovan. “Vermont’s ability to limit how greenhouse gases enter our environment, like we do with our vehicle emission standards, is a vital tool in the fight against climate change. Vermont has always been a national leader in clean air. We remain committed to fight for our environment and for clean air by opposing this action by the federal government.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is the latest effort by Vermont and the other states to preserve the benefits of more stringent regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NHTSA, California, and major automakers, agreed to a single national program to limit greenhouse gas emissions and require fuel economy improvements from new passenger cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2017-2025. The standards are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by two billion metric tons—the equivalent of the annual emissions of 422 million cars currently on the road—and save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs.

In August 2018, EPA and NHTSA proposed to reverse course and freeze greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards at 2020 levels for model years 2021-2026 rather than require previously agreed to annual improvements. As part of this proposal, NHTSA proposed to declare that California’s greenhouse gas standards and the standards of states – like Vermont – which have adopted California’s standards, are preempted by federal law. Further, the EPA proposed to revoke a waiver it had granted to California, which provides legal support for California’s greenhouse gas regulations. On September 19th, the NHTSA and EPA made their decisions final.

The lawsuit filed today challenges only NHTSA’s preemption declaration. It contends that NHTSA lacks legal authority for its decision, and that the action is contrary to a 2007 ruling rejecting a preemption challenge to Vermont’s initial greenhouse gas regulations in Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie, 508 F.Supp.2d 295 (D. Vt. 2007). The coalition of states anticipate filing future challenges to EPA’s waiver revocation and weakening of federal standards.

Joining Attorney General Donovan in the coalition are the Attorneys General of  California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey,, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, the city of Los Angeles, and New York City.

Last modified: October 8, 2019