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Federal Court Finds Bush Administration Violated Law by Ignoring Global Warming in Setting National Gas Mileage Standards, Rejects Loophole for Trucks and SUVs

Publication Date: 
November 15, 2007
Stanford Law School

Stanford, Calif., November 14, 2007—The Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School today announced that The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Bush administration violated the law by ignoring global warming when it set national gas mileage standards for SUVs and pickup trucks. The Court sent the decision back to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] for a full environmental review of the gas mileage standards.

The ruling, written by Senior Circuit Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, found against the administration’s decision to exempt SUVs and light trucks from fuel economy standards. “That class 2b trucks [light trucks] have never been regulated by NHTSA is not a reason for not regulating them now. We remand to NHTSA to revisit this issue and promulgate average fuel economy standards for these vehicles or to provide a validly reasoned basis for continuing to exclude them from the regulation.”

"This ruling is a great help in holding the Bush administration accountable for its refusal to accept the realities of global warming and forcing them to start taking responsible actions to implement the obvious solutions," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Raising fuel economy standards is one of the most effective actions the government can take to quickly and significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and there is no reason SUVs and light trucks should be exempt from these standards."

The Ninth Circuit filed its decision on the case, Center for Biological Diversity v. National Highway Traffic Administration, No. 06-71891, heard by Senior Circuit Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, and Sixth Circuit Senior Judge Eugene E. Siler. The case, filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, is consolidated with similar challenges by California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia, and the City of New York, and four other public interest groups—the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, and Environmental Defense.

Plaintiffs argued that the administration violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act by setting low fuel economy standards of 22.5, 23.1, and 23.5 miles per gallon for upcoming model years 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Plaintiffs also argued that the administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions and global warming before selecting the low mileage standards.

"This is an important victory in the fight against global warming," said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the attorney of record on the case. "It’s hard to imagine a federal action more significant to the problem of climate change than one which dictates fuel consumption standards."

Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act in the wake of the 1973-1974 oil embargo as a technology-forcing statute to conserve energy and oil. The law requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set corporate average fuel-economy ("CAFÉ") standards for SUVs and light trucks at the "maximum feasible" level.

The Ninth Circuit ruling can be downloaded here.

About the Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

About Deborah A. "Debbie" Sivas

Sivas has been the Director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic since 1997. She is a 1987 Stanford Law School graduate, clerked for a federal court, serves as president of the board for two NGOs, and has litigated many significant environmental cases on behalf of nonprofit organizations.

About the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford

Stanford Law School offers a variety of clinics that litigate in specialized fields, including environmental protection, immigrants’ rights, community law, cyberlaw, and educational advocacy. The clinics provide pro bono representation and operate cohesively as a single law firm, the Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School. The Mills Legal Clinic provides students an opportunity to apply classroom theory to real client situations and to develop a lifelong commitment to public service values.

The Environmental Law Clinic, directed by Deborah A. Sivas, enables students to provide legal assistance to nonprofit organizations on a variety of environmental issues, focusing primarily on natural resource conservation. The clinic's clients include large national environmental organizations and a variety of regional and local grassroots groups. Working under clinic attorneys, students routinely investigate cases, assist clients in developing legal strategies, draft comment letters, court pleadings, and briefs, present testimony before administrative agencies, and argue cases in state and federal courts. Clinic students also provide policy advice and work on regulatory and legislative reform in the environmental field.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at


Amy Poftak
Assistant Director of Communications
Stanford Law School
650 725.7516


Deborah A. "Debbie" Sivas
Director, Environmental Law Clinic and Lecturer in Law
650 723.0325

Brian Nowicki
Center for Biological Diversity
916.201-6938 (cell)