Environmental, Technology and Innovation, Transportation

D.C. Circuit Pauses Forced Truck Electrification Lawsuit

On December 21, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed to pause lawsuits seeking to end the mandatory California-led phase-in of electric heavy-duty trucks until the court rules on separate suits filed to decide whether various aspects of mandating electric passenger cars and light pickup trucks is lawful.

“Judges Michelle Childs and Florence Pan signed an order to stay lawsuits filed by farm groups, 17 states and others against the California-led campaign to phase out conventional on-road heavy-duty vehicles,” Capital Press says. “The [EPA] sought the stay, arguing the lawsuits rehash issues already before the court in suits challenging California and EPA rules intended to steer drivers into zero-emission cars and pickups.”

Two of the car-related suits are Ohio v. EPA and Texas v. EPA, and oral arguments in those suits were heard in September. The EPA argued that resolutions in the car-related lawsuits will narrow or resolve the truck-related lawsuits, according to Capital Press.

“Plaintiffs opposed putting the truck lawsuits on hold, arguing it will delay a decision on a rule that’s already decreasing the demand for liquid fuels, including ethanol, and increasing the cost of conventional vehicles,” Capital Press adds.

Ohio case

In the Ohio suit, “several Republican-led states and advocates for the oil and gas industry are challenging a waiver that has allowed California to set emission standards that go beyond the federal standards set by the EPA,” notes Axios

The California rule will ban the sale of new cars and light trucks with gas- or diesel-powered engines beginning in 2035.

Arguments against the ban are that Congress provided California with a waiver to set tougher standards to fight the haze prevalent around Los Angeles but didn’t intend for the waiver to be used to fight climate change.

“Under Section 177 of the (CAA), states must either adhere to federal emissions standards or adopt California’s more stringent guidelines,” according to CNET. “Seventeen states have historically followed California’s regulations, but so far only Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington have announced they’ll enforce the Advanced Clean Cars II rule and prohibit the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles.”

Analysts predict the Ohio case will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

Texas case

In the Texas suit, the “Texas Attorney General’s Office is leading a challenge to the [EPA’s] pollution standards for cars and light-duty trucks in a lawsuit that could have a lasting impact on the automotive industry and the Texas power grid,” Axios continues.

This suit takes issue with EPA emissions standards that will require more electric vehicles (EVs) to be sold to offset the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sales of new conventional cars and trucks.

“The Biden administration says the standards will speed up the transition to [EVs],” Capital Press continues. “States opposing the rule say replacing liquid fuels with electricity will have huge economic and political consequences and that courts should restrain the EPA unless Congress approves.

“In a press release last April, the EPA stated the rule will ‘tackle the climate crisis.’  In court documents, the EPA has downplayed the chances the rule will actually reduce oil production.”

According to the brief filed in the Texas case:

“In June 2022, [SCOTUS] ended EPA’s plan to ‘substantially restructure the American energy market’ in pursuit of the agency’s unauthorized climate goals (West Virginia v. EPA). This case is a re-run of West Virginia, except here EPA seeks to substantially restructure the American automobile market in pursuit of unauthorized climate goals. EPA’s action should fail for the same reason as in West Virginia—under no plausible reading of the Clean Air Act (CAA) was EPA given authority to perform this restructuring.”

These petitioners believe the increased use of EVs will harm the reliability of states’ power grids. However, grid experts have said EVs will actually make power “grids more resilient by supplying electricity back to the network when it’s needed most,” Axios says.

A press release issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the EPA regulation will “undercut states’ authority and efforts to properly regulate their own environment.”

Texas has further hedged its position by passing a law requiring EV owners to pay an extra $200-per-year registration fee, which is “meant to make up for the state’s lost revenue from gasoline taxes that are used to pay for road construction and maintenance,” according to The Texas Tribune.

The Texas suit also alleges that the EPA emissions standards jeopardize national security because most materials used to produce EVs come from “China and other hostile countries,” according to the legal brief. “It is implausible that Congress would have empowered EPA sub silentio in the [CAA] to jeopardize this goal by forcing vehicle manufacturers to increase reliance on foreign actors.”

The other states joining Texas in its EPA lawsuit include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah.

As with the Ohio case, the Texas lawsuit is also predicted to be heard by SCOTUS.

California’s congressionally provided waiver has a long history of being challenged through legal avenues. The viability of the waiver has also historically been influenced by the current political party in power in Washington, D.C. During President Donald Trump’s term in office, he revoked the Golden State’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions limits. The Biden administration reversed that decision upon taking office.

Impacted industry is advised to carefully follow the outcome of these lawsuits as they make their way through the court system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.