S.F. court rebukes 'pathetic' fuel standards

A federal appeals court in The City sharply rejected the Bush administration’s new pollution standards for most sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans and ordered regulators Thursday to draft a new plan that’s tougher on auto emissions.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to address why the so-called light trucks are allowed to pollute more than passenger cars and didn’t properly assess greenhouse gas emissions when it set new minimum miles-per-gallon requirements for models in 2008 to 2011.

The court also said the administration failed to include in the new rules heavier trucks driven as commuter vehicles, among severalother deficiencies found.

Judge Betty Fletcher wrote that the administration “cannot put a thumb on the scale by undervaluing the benefits and overvaluing the costs of more stringent standards.”

California and 10 other states, two cities and four environmental groups sued the administration after it announced the new fuel economy standards last year.

“It’s a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration and its failed energy policy,” California Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

The court ordered the administration to draw up new rules as soon as possible, but automakers complained Thursday they’re already deep into developing light trucks through 2011 based on the new standards.

Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the industry is dedicated to developing more fuel-efficient automobiles, “but adequate lead time is necessary in order to fully integrate these technologies into the marketplace.”

Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced to much fanfare the new rules in March 2006 in Baltimore’s football stadium, proclaiming they were the “most ambitious fuel-economy goals” yet for SUVs and their ilk.

Mineta called the plan “pragmatic,” balancing fuel conservation against auto industry costs and jobs.

The standards required most passenger trucks to boost fuel economy from 22.5 miles per gallon in 2008 to at least 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010. Passenger cars are required to meet a 27.5 mile per gallon average.

“The idea of raising vehicle efficiency one mile per gallon is pathetic and shocking,” said Brown, who along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is suing the Bush administration for its refusal to act on California’s fuel-economy plan for cars in the state.

The court ordered the White House to examine why it continues to consider light trucks differently than cars. Regulators made a distinction between cars and light trucks decades ago when most trucks were used for commercial purposes. — AP

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