Center for Auto Safety v. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., 85-1231

Citation793 F.2d 1322
Decision Date20 June 1986
Docket NumberNo. 85-1231,85-1231
Parties, 253 U.S.App.D.C. 336, 17 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,039 CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY, et al., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION, et al., Respondents, General Motors Corporation, Automobile Importers of America, Inc., Ford Motor Company, Intervenors.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Cornish F. Hitchcock, with whom Alan B. Morrison and Clarence M. Ditlow, III, Washington, D.C., were on brief, for petitioners. Katherine I. Hall, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance, for petitioners.

Enid Rubenstein, Atty., Nat. Highway Traffic Safety Admin., with whom Richard K. Willard, Acting Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Justice, David W. Allen and Stephen P. Wood, Asst. Chief Counsels, Nat. Highway Traffic Safety Admin., John F. Cordes, Marleigh D. Dover, Attys., Dept. of Justice and J. Edward Glancy, Atty., Nat. Highway Traffic Safety Admin., Washington, D.C., were on brief, for respondents.

Howard P. Willens, with whom Raymond C. Clevengar, III, Washington, D.C., Paula Winkler-Doman and James A. Brown, Dearborn, Mich., were on brief, for intervenor, Ford Motor Co. Bruce M. Berman, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance, for intervenor, Ford Motor Co.

Milton D. Andrews, Lance E. Tunick, Washington, D.C., William L. Weber, Jr. and Thomas L. Arnett, Detroit, Mich., were on brief, for intervenors, Auto. Importers of America, Inc. and Gen. Motors Corp.

Before EDWARDS, SCALIA and BUCKLEY, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge HARRY T. EDWARDS.

Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge SCALIA.

HARRY T. EDWARDS, Circuit Judge:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") is required to set mandatory fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks pursuant to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 ("EPCA"). 1 In October 1984, NHTSA issued a final rule that amended its previously published fuel economy standards for light trucks for the 1985 model year and established light truck standards for the 1986 model year. 2 The new 1985 standard required each manufacturer to achieve a fleetwide average fuel economy of 19.5 miles per gallon ("mpg") for its light trucks, a reduction of 1.5 mpg from the original 1985 standard of 21.0 mpg. The 1986 model year standard was set at 20.0 mpg, which also represented a retreat from the original 1985 requirement.

The petitioners, four non-profit consumer organizations that work to promote energy conservation, 3 challenge this rule. They allege that NHTSA has violated EPCA's requirement that the agency designate standards at "the maximum feasible average fuel economy level." 4 The gravamen of their complaint is that the 1985 and 1986 model year standards are too low because in determining those standards, NHTSA gave impermissible weight to shifts in consumer demand toward larger, less fuel-efficient trucks.

As a threshold matter, the petitioners plainly have standing to bring this action in a representative capacity for members of their organizations. Their members have suffered injury-in-fact because the vehicles available for purchase will likely be less fuel efficient than if the fuel economy standards were more demanding. This injury can be traced to NHTSA's rulemaking and is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision. Thus, all of Article III's requirements for standing are met.

The Government argues that the petitioners' concerns are not injuries, but merely "generalized grievances" and, as such, cannot be considered by this court. The Government's argument reveals a fundamental confusion between the prudential principle that courts generally "refrain[ ] from adjudicating 'abstract questions of wide public significance' ... most appropriately addressed in the representative branches" 5 and the constitutional requirement of injury. Moreover, the Government overlooks the fact that an injury shared by a large number of people is nonetheless an injury.

Generally, under EPCA, judicial review of agency action establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy ("CAFE") standards may be sought by "[a]ny person who may be adversely affected by" the promulgation of any such rule. 6 This provision reveals a congressional intention to endorse standing that is coterminous with the full reach of standing permitted by Article III. Therefore, this court has no authority to ignore the will of Congress and reject petitioners' standing on prudential grounds.

On the merits, it must be concluded that EPCA permits NHTSA to consider consumer demand in setting fuel economy standards, and that the agency has reasonably balanced the competing policies of the statute in the rulemakings at issue. The petition for review must therefore be denied.

A. Statutory Framework

In the wake of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo, Congress enacted EPCA with the purpose of enhancing the supply of fossil fuels in the United States through increased production and energy conservation programs. 7 The Act established a major program to bring about improved motor vehicle fuel efficiency. 8 Title III of EPCA added Title V to the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act ("MVICSA"), 9 requiring the Department of Transportation ("DOT") to establish mandatory CAFE standards for passenger cars and for lightweight vehicles, termed "light trucks," which include vans, pickups and jeeps.

The CAFE standards set a minimum performance requirement in terms of an average number of miles a vehicle travels per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel. Individual vehicles and models are not required to meet the mileage standard; rather, each manufacturer must achieve an average level of fuel economy for all specified vehicles manufactured in a given model year.

Section 502(b) of the Act directs the Secretary of DOT ("Secretary") to prescribe, by rule, standards for light trucks. 10 The Secretary may set separate standards for different classes of light trucks, and they "shall be set at a level which the Secretary determines is the maximum feasible average fuel economy level which such manufacturers are able to achieve in each model year...." 11 Congress directed the Secretary to consider four factors in determining the "maximum feasible" fuel economy level:

(1) technological feasibility;

(2) economic practicability;

(3) the effect of other Federal motor vehicle standards on fuel economy; and

(4) the need of the Nation to conserve energy. 12

The Secretary may amend the standard, but amendments must also require the "maximum feasible average fuel economy level." 13 All standards are to be set at least 18 months prior to the beginning of the model year 14 and any amendment that makes a CAFE standard more stringent must also be promulgated at least 18 months prior to the start of the model year. 15

At the end of each model year, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") calculates the fuel economy level each manufacturer has achieved based on the fuel economy of each model and the number of vehicles manufactured in each model line. 16 If a manufacturer fails to meet a standard, the Secretary "shall assess" civil penalties. 17 The Secretary has limited authority to modify or cancel the penalty when (1) necessary to prevent bankruptcy of the manufacturer; (2) the violation is a result of an act of God, strike or fire; or (3) the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") certifies that modification of the penalty is necessary to prevent a "substantial lessening" of competition. 18 The Act also establishes credits, calculated in the same manner as the penalties, if a manufacturer exceeds the CAFE standard. Manufacturers may carry the credits forward or backward for up to three model years to cancel or reduce penalties. 19

Finally, the Act provides for judicial review initiated by "[a]ny person who may be adversely affected by any rule prescribed under section 2001, 2002, 2003 or 2006 of this title." 20

B. Rulemaking Proceedings

For the model years at issue here, NHTSA issued separate standards for four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive light trucks. 21 Within both these categories NHTSA has established two sub-classes: (1) "captive imports," which are defined as vehicles marketed by a domestic manufacturer but produced by a foreign company and (2) "other" vehicles, which covers a manufacturer's domestic production. 22 In addition, NHTSA issued a "combined" standard. Manufacturers have two options: they may meet the combined standard for their entire light truck fleet or they may meet the separate standards for the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive categories. The combined standard is set at a level intermediate to the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive standards. 23

1. The Standard for Model Year 1985

In 1980, NHTSA set the light truck combined CAFE standards for 1984 and 1985 at 20.0 mpg and 21.0 mpg, respectively. 24 These standards were based on projections of sales of various models calculated on the assumption that manufacturers would introduce new models of fuel-efficient light trucks and that consumer demand for these vehicles would be strong due to high prices and reduced supplies of gasoline. 25 The standards for 1984 and 1985 were set at the fuel economy levels attainable by the "least capable" manufacturer, Ford Motor Company ("Ford"). The agency acknowledged that higher standards could result in the introduction of new models or technologies by Ford, but also recognized the uncertainty of financing to undertake such ventures. It also cited the possibility that Ford might restrict the sale of its larger trucks or choose to pay penalties, thus further eroding its position in the marketplace. 26

In November 1983, Ford petitioned NHTSA to lower the light truck CAFE standards for model years 1984 and 1985 by carrying the 1983 standards over to 1984 and carrying the 1984 standards over to 1985. This amendment would have...

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