With just days left before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, the Trump administration on Tuesday agreed to an auto-industry request to delay steeper fines for failing to meet fuel-economy standards, according to a Reuters report.
The move effectively amounts to a stalling tactic that panders to behind-the-scenes lobbying from a few automakers dependent on trucks and large engines. It follows multiple unsuccessful attempts by the outgoing administration to overturn higher fuel-economy fines.
The debate over fines stretches back to 2015, when Congress ordered federal agencies to adjust civil penalties to account for inflation, Reuters noted. In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), moved to raise fines from $5.50 to $14 for every 0.1 mpg new cars and trucks burn in excess of current standards.
2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon
Automakers protested that move, saying it could increase industry compliance costs by $1 billion annually, according to Reuters. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) ended up paying a $77 million fine for failing to meet fuel-economy standards for the 2016 model year.
The Trump administration already lost a court battle in 2018 over its attempt to roll back fines. The administration had also already attempted to freeze fines at a much lower rate than was originally proposed, a move that was overturned in a U.S. appeals court ruling in 2019.
The incoming Biden administration will likely bring fewer breaks on fines and thus a higher value for the emissions credits automakers can purchase to achieve regulatory compliance—helping incentivize the automakers that do sell more efficient vehicles, as the regulations were intended to do. Where the Trump administration has sought to roll back all forms of environmental regulation, the Biden administration may also push for higher efficiency standards.