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EPA Agrees to Pay Attorney Fees in Truck Emission Rollback Action

September 23, 2020 | Posted in : Fee Dispute, Fee Dispute Litigation / ADR, Fees Paid by Gov't / Taxpayers, Practice Area: Civil Rights / Public Interest

A recent Law 360 story by Clark Mindock, “EPA To Pay $92K Atty Fees in Truck Emission Rollback Suit,” reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to pay nearly $92,000 to environmental groups for attorney fees over a challenge to the Trump administration's attempt to roll back heavy-duty truck emissions rules.  The settlement on attorney fees was announced in the D.C. Circuit and comes roughly two years after the EPA withdrew its rule, which sought to stop enforcing Obama-era greenhouse gas emissions standards for certain heavy-duty trucks.

The decision by the Trump administration to try to curb that enforcement sparked an emergency legal challenge mounted by the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Center for Biological Diversity in the D.C. Circuit.  Less than a month after the challenge was filed, the court stayed the order pending further review and the EPA withdrew the rule shortly after.

The settlement announced didn't include an admission of fault from the EPA.  The $91,302.60 in attorney fees "has no precedential value as to any fact, claim, assertion of violation of any statute or regulation or defense in this lawsuit," according to the filing.

The settlement follows a legal skirmish in 2018 when the Trump administration decided to cease enforcing greenhouse gas emissions for certain heavy-duty trucks.  In announcing its enforcement decision in July of that year, the EPA said it wouldn't enforce certain provisions to the second phase of a rule implemented in October 2016, which regulate emissions from new trailers hauled by heavy-duty tractors that deal with so-called glider vehicles — trucks that are built with used powertrains including engines, transmissions or rear axles.

The decision not to enforce the provisions came after then-Assistant EPA Administrator Bill Wehrum said the agency's proposal the year prior to fully repeal the glider rules was taking longer than expected to finalize.  The three environmental groups sued quickly and asked for an emergency stay of the EPA's decision, telling the D.C. Circuit that the EPA's move "is an unlawful attempt by EPA to circumvent Clean Air Act's requirements and institute a shadow regulatory regime under the guise of exercising 'enforcement discretion.'"

The D.C. Circuit paused the rollback on July 18, 2018, a day after the challenge was filed.  The court said then that it needed "sufficient opportunity" to consider the emergency motion but warned against misconstruing the stay as an indicator of its opinion on the matter.  The EPA then pulled the rule change the following month and the court in turn granted a motion to dismiss the case.