Green groups sued the Department of Transportation on Thursday for delaying higher fines against automakers that violate fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks.
"By suspending higher fines that automakers must pay for cheating on fuel economy standards, Donald Trump is basically telling deceiving automakers, ‘You don't have to pay the pricey ticket, you can go to traffic school,'" said Alejandra Nunez, an attorney for the Sierra Club, one of several groups in Thursday's lawsuit against the EPA.
The Sierra Club, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity, argued in their lawsuit that the Department of Transportation's decision was illegal, and want the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to mandate that the new fines be implemented by the agency.
"Without strict penalties, automakers will continue breaking the law at the expense of consumer savings, and Americans' health and safety," Nunez said in a statement.
The lawsuit came one day after the Environmental Protection Agency held a public meeting to consider changing the vehicle efficiency program and greenhouse gas rules. EPA and the Department of Transportation share dual jurisdiction over the regulations. The Transportation Department, enforces the fuel economy component, and EPA enforces the greenhouse gas and emissions component.
President Trump rolled back a decision by the Obama administration to go forward with the next phase of the vehicle rules through 2025, after automakers convinced Trump that the rules were too strict and did not take into consideration low fuel prices and changing consumer preferences.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said the delay in the fines is the latest "attack on fuel economy standards," despite the majority of support that the rule receives from the public.
The Trump administration "unlawfully delayed implementation of rules meant to ensure auto companies invest in fuel-saving technologies," the group said in a blog post after suing the administration. "This delay sets up a perverse incentive making it cheaper for auto companies to simply pay a fine rather than meet fuel economy standards."
The environmental groups argue the fines had not been updated for 20 years until the Obama administration did in 2016, by raising the fine from $5 to $14 for each tenth of a mile that the automakers fall short of meeting under the regulations.
"Now, the administration's delay means it will remain cheaper for automakers to simply pay a penalty rather than comply with the law," the group said.