During the Trump administration's year-long quest to roll back Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets, it attempted to give automakers in violation of the current standards a break by delaying the scheduled increase of penalties. The logic here is that the federal government is reassessing the Obama era standards, so it lumped in the new fines that were supposed to go into effect last July.

Those penalties represent an increase of $8.50 for every tenth of a mile per gallon a new car consumes above the minimum fuel standard. But with the new targets in quasi limbo, the updated fines were not being applied.

On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled the Department of Transportation cannot do that. Since the old rules are technically still in effect, the court ruled that automakers are still subject to the fine. 

Plaintiffs included the State of New York, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Vermont - as well as the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Those groups collectively filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA acting Deputy Administrator Jack Danielson, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

"Americans will breathe easier because the court undid the Trump administration's bizarre attempt to encourage toxic tailpipe pollution," said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release following the court ruling. "Cheap fines incentivize automakers to produce gas-guzzlers that fuel climate change and spew harmful pollutants. Reinstating proper penalties will help protect our kids' lungs and our planet's future."

A blog post from the National Resources Defense Council claimed the court's decision restored what it considered the proper fines. "The updated penalty impels automakers to clean up their fleets, rather than offering them a cheap license to burn more gas if they fail to keep pace with fuel economy targets," said the council's Clean Energy Attorney, Irene Gutierrez.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the administration will continue to progress toward "more appropriate" fuel economy standards for the automotive industry. The new targets have not yet been set.

this article first appeared on thetruthaboutcars.com