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Center for Auto Safety v. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.

Citation: 17 ELR 20039
No. No. 85-1231, 793 F.2d 1322/24 ERC 1641/(D.C. Cir., 06/20/1986)

The court holds that consumer organizations that promote energy conservation have standing on behalf of their members to challenge the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) issuance of fuel economy standards for light trucks, and NHTSA may consider shifts in consumer demand when setting the standards. In a note, the court first holds that an organization that sues on its own behalf does not have standing, since that organization did not allege injury to its activities. The court then holds that three other organizations that brought suit on behalf of their members have standing. These organizations clearly satisfy two of the three requirements for this type of standing. The interests they seek to protect, their members' interest in the availability of fuel-efficient vehicles, are germane to the organizations' purposes, and there is no reason to require individual members to participate in the case.

The court holds that the third requirement, that the members have standing to sue in their own right, is also satisfied. The court holds that the members have satisfied the Article III prerequisite for standing. The organizations have shown that their members will suffer injury-in-fact. NHTSA's low fuel economy standards would reduce the range of fuel efficient light trucks that would otherwise be available to their members and will retard the development of fuel efficient technologies. That the injury is suffered by a large group of people is irrelevant to the question of whether there is an injury. Further, the organizations' claims are redressible through judicial relief. Although vehicle designs are established well in advance of a given model year, a higher fuel economy standard will have an effect on the types of vehicles available in the future. Having concluded that petitioners have satisfied the constitutional requirements for standing, the court next holds that Congress eliminated all prudential limitations when it passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which allows "any person who may be adversely affected" to seek judicial review of a fuel economy standard. Thus, the judicial principle restricting review of generalized grievances is inapplicable.

On the merits, the court holds that NHTSA's consideration of shifts in consumer demand towards larger, less fuel-efficient trucks in setting fuel economy standards was permissible. The court holds that neither the statute nor the legislative history reveals Congress' intention on this question. The court then holds that the NHTSA's interpretation represents a reasonable balance of the policies of EPCA, which directs the agency to consider "economic practicability" and "technological feasibility" when setting standards.

Judge Scalia dissents from the court's holding on the standing issue in this case and in a companion case, In re Center for Auto Safety, 17 ELR 20052. He would hold that petitioners' unsupported assertions that unidentified members of their organizations may be unable to purchase unidentified types of fuel-efficient light trucks is insufficient to satisfy the Article III requirement of a distinct and palpable injury. He would also hold that petitioners have failed to establish that their members' alleged injury in these cases is redressable by a favorable decision.

Counsel for Petitioners
Cornish F. Hitchcock, Alan B. Morrison
Public Citizen Litigation Group
2000 P St. NW, Washington DC 20036
(202) 785-3704

Counsel for Respondents
Marleigh D. Dover, Richard K. Willard
Civil Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-4820

Before: EDWARDS, SCALIA and BUCKLEY, Circuit Judges.