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Wyoming joins lawsuit against federal fuel efficiency standards

Gov. Gordon says the Biden administration’s scaled back standards are still ‘unworkable’ in rural Wyoming.

Traffic rolls along a wintry stretch of I-80 near Elk Mountain. (Flickr Creative Commons/Tom Kelly)

by Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile

Gov. Mark Gordon has launched another lawsuit against the Biden administration, this time joining a coalition of 26 Republican-led states to block federal fuel efficiency standards for gasoline-powered vehicles that Gordon described as “unworkable.”

“Our federal government should not be issuing overreaching mandates that manipulate the free market,” Gordon said in a prepared statement on Monday. “Wyoming residents drive thousands of miles each year through remote areas. They should be able to decide what vehicle technology is most suitable for their needs, not the Biden administration.”

The administration’s new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, commonly referred to as CAFE, mandate an increase of average miles per gallon for new model cars and trucks “industry-wide.” The policy aims to save billions of dollars in fuel costs and forego significant greenhouse gas emissions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The new standards, finalized June 7, “will prevent more than 710 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, reduce air pollution, and reduce the country’s dependence on oil,” the agency stated.

“Dealers are not — absolutely not — anti-EV. But the customer demand has to be there.” MARSHA ALLEN, WYOMING AUTOMOBILE DEALERS ASSOCIATION

The directive establishes different minimum fuel efficiency standards for different types of vehicles. At the last minute, the administration scaled back its originally proposed CAFE standards for light trucks and SUVs, resulting in an overall new model fleet average of 53.5 miles per gallon by 2032 rather than 57.8 miles per gallon.

The lawsuit, filed in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Kentucky, claims that the new CAFE standard exceeds the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation, and “otherwise is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law.”

The Wyoming Automobile Dealers Association declined to comment on the lawsuit, but told WyoFile that it is generally not supportive of any government mandate that diminishes customer choices in what type of vehicle they purchase.

“Dealers are not — absolutely not — anti-EV,” Marsha Allen, the association’s executive vice president, said. “But the customer demand has to be there.”

Several dealerships in Wyoming are making huge investments to install electric vehicle charging stations to meet manufacturers’ criteria for selling EVs, Allen added. But so far, dealers have struggled with the chicken-and-egg dilemma of the desire among customers to purchase an EV and the cost and infrastructure to make it practical in Wyoming.

Wyoming Climate Summit attendees watch a demonstration of automation capabilities during the event’s electric vehicle car show June 25, 2022 in Lander. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

So far, EV ownership in Wyoming is lackluster. There are approximately 1,000 EVs registered in the state, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation. However, the state relies heavily on gasoline purchases from out-of-state drivers, which account for the largest number of EVs on Wyoming roads — particularly during tourist season, according to the WyDOT.

Meantime, Wyoming — along with many other states — is exploring methods to overcome a potential decline in fuel tax revenue to help maintain roads due to higher fuel efficiencies and increasing numbers of electric vehicles. The Wyoming Legislature’s Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee is reworking past legislation to potentially impose a per-kilowatt “use” tax on EVs and potentially hybrid vehicles that utilize both traditional fuels, battery storage and electricity.

Allen, who lobbies the Legislature on behalf of the Wyoming Automobile Dealers Association, described the issue as “big” and “complicated.”

“There’s no simple solution for any of it,” Allen said.

The transportation committee will revisit the issue when it meets in September.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.