In Response to Lawsuit, Highway Administration Reinstates Transportation Clean Air Rule

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Bay Scoggin

WASHINGTON (Sept. 25, 2017) – In a big win for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration today responded to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

On July 31st, TexPIRG’s national affiliate, U.S. PIRG, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, sued the Federal Highway Administration for illegally suspending, earlier in the year, the federal transportation greenhouse gas rule advanced by the Highway Administration under the Obama administration.

Today’s action means that federal officials can continue working with local and state transportation agencies across the country to hammer out smarter, more effective transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that harm both public health and the environment. They face a first compliance deadline of October 2018.

“Reinstating this much-needed standard is a crucial win for our climate,” said Amanda Eaken, director of transportation and climate in NRDC’s Urban Solutions program. “Our lawsuit held the Trump administration accountable for illegally halting a common-sense tool to curb carbon pollution from transportation. Now the Federal Highway Administration should get busy working with planners nationwide to clean up the air, protect our health and provide smarter transportation options for Americans such as more public transit, bikeways and pedestrian walkways.”

“Policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from transportation are essential to minimize the impacts of climate change, which has been recognized by health experts worldwide as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG State Director. “Saving this rule is a major step towards the goal of transitioning to a cleaner, healthier transportation system.”

“In its haste to undo important environmental protections, the Trump Administration has attempted to run roughshod over important public participation requirements set out in law,” said Trip Pollard, leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program. “It is unfortunate that it took legal action to ensure that these legal safeguards were met. We will continue to take legal action when we see agencies attempting to cut corners and will ensure that thoughtful, transparent decision-making remains the norm in the United States.” 

“This summer has shown us clearer than ever before that the signs of a changing climate are already upon us,” said June Blotnick, Executive Director of Clean Air Carolina. “This rule will provide transportation planners with the tools they need to help combat vehicle pollution. Not only will this help mitigate climate change, but the reduction in local air pollution will help our members breathe a little easier.”

In its notice today, the Highway Administration also signaled its intent to start new rulemaking this year to be finalized in the spring of 2018.  Under this rulemaking FHWA seeks to repeal the rule through proper, legal procedures. The rulemaking process includes a robust opportunity for public notice and comment.  The environmental groups plan to play a major part in the rulemaking and vigorously oppose any permanent repeal effort.

In 2014, the Highway Administration began developing new standards under the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, (MAP-21).

In 2016, the agency issued transportation standards for congestion mitigation and air quality improvement and solicited public comment on whether and how to establish a standard for greenhouse gas emissions. In response, nine state departments of transportation, 24 metropolitan planning organizations, more than 100 cities, 67 members of Congress, more than 100 public interest organizations—including plaintiffs NRDC and U.S. PIRG—and almost 100,000 individuals commented in favor of a greenhouse gas standard.

The Highway Administration issued a final greenhouse gas standard on January 18, 2017. Under it, the roughly 400 state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations must track the annual number of tons of carbon dioxide emitted from on-road vehicles traveling on the national highway system. They also must set two- and/or four-year emissions-reduction targets, with the first targets to be submitted to the Highway Administration by February 20, 2018, and periodically report on their progress.

But once in office, the Trump Administration issued notices delaying the implementation of the standard and indefinitely suspending it on May 19.

The transportation sector accounted for 36.4 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions in 2016. America’s transportation system produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the entire economy of any other nation on earth except China, India and Russia. U.S.  transportation emissions are thus significant on a global scale.

A 2016 poll showing broad support for the clean air transportation standard is here:


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

Clean Air Carolina is a statewide nonprofit advocacy group based in Charlotte, NC with a satellite office in the Triangle. Our mission is to ensure cleaner air quality for all North Carolinians through education and advocacy and by working with our partners to reduce sources of pollution. Major initiatives include AirKeepers Citizen Science Program, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, and Clear the Air for Kids.

U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations that stand up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web at