Stage 1 fire restrictions, enacted for unincorporated areas of western Boulder County.

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January 21, 2021

Boulder County joins amicus brief in objection to EPA and DOT vehicle emissions rule

15 local governments call out weak Trump Administration rule for adding to air pollution and city health burdens.

Boulder County, Colo. — Today, Boulder County joins 14 other city and county governments from across the country in signing an amicus brief criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) and U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT's) Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for failing to reduce dangerous air pollution and address climate change, increasing health and safety risks for Americans. The amicus brief’s filing coincides with President Biden’s first set of environmental and climate executive orders, coming just one day after a directive for the Biden-Harris administration’s incoming EPA Administrator to revoke the SAFE rule and reinstate and strengthen ambitious fuel economy standards that will spur cleaner cars throughout the US auto market.

Almost two-thirds of the U.S. population are represented by networks that are speaking out on the dangers of this weak cars pollution rule today. Boulder County and the other signatories are home to over 10 million Americans, and we are joined on the brief by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities who, together, cover more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns across the country and a collective population of 218 million. Moreover, the brief we are signing today supports a petition for review of the SAFE Vehicles Rule filed in May 2020 and joined by 20 states, two cities and three air quality management districts.

The SAFE Vehicles rule is the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama-era changes to the CAFE standards, which set required fuel efficiency improvements for new cars and light-duty trucks. The Obama administration’s clean car standards were predicted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 570 million metric tons per year by 2030, equivalent to shutting down 140 coal plants for a whole year. The amicus brief points out that the SAFE rule results in more costs to consumers and frustrates city efforts to address climate change and advance environmental justice.

The SAFE Vehicles rule would result in up to 1,000 more premature deaths per year compared to the Obama regulations due to the associated increase in air pollution, which exacerbates respiratory illness. This hurts our most vulnerable communities, as low-income households and minority communities are more likely to live closer to power plants and highways. In addition, there is mounting evidence linking long-term exposure to air pollution with a greater risk of contracting respiratory illnesses, including the most severe impacts of COVID-19, which will only create a larger burden on our healthcare systems and reduce their capacity to tackle future health crises.

The brief, authored by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, makes four principal legal arguments on the shortcomings of the SAFE Vehicles rule:

  1. EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to consider the need to reduce transportation emissions to address climate change
  2. EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously by disregarding the Clean Air Act’s purpose
  3. The agencies failed to adequately consider local governments' reliance interests
  4. The agencies’ environmental justice analysis is arbitrary and capricious

"With the climate crisis, the last thing we should do is allow cars to pollute more,” said Boulder County Board of Commissioners Chair, Matt Jones. “The stronger auto mileage standards not only clean up emissions, they save on gas money for drivers. This needs to be fixed either through the courts or by the Biden Administration.”

"​Climate change is already impacting our community," said Boulder County Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience Director, Susie Strife. "After an extraordinary year of multiple overlapping disasters right here in Boulder County — a global pandemic, climate-fueled wildfires, and extraordinarily poor air quality — the impacts of climate change cannot be ignored. We are proud to join this collective effort of local governments standing up for our community's health and wellbeing."

Read the full brief.

Amicus Brief Signatories

The U.S. Conference of Mayors; The National League of Cities; Annapolis, Maryland; Boulder County, Colorado; Glen Rock, New Jersey; Harris County, Texas; Houston, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Saint Paul, Minnesota; Salt Lake City, Utah; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the Mayors of Durham, North Carolina; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Phoenix, Arizona.

For more information about Boulder County’s sustainability and climate action mission visit or contact Christian Herrmann at

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Mission of the Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience

Our mission is to advance policies and programs that conserve resources, protect the environment, and safeguard our climate in order to build a sustainable, just, and resilient community.