Midway through June, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an interesting decision as to the standing that is required to challenge an agency’s decision not to regulate an industry more rigorously.
Carrying out a Congressional directive to “complete a rulemaking for a regulation to require a warning system in new motor vehicles to indicate to the operator when a tire is significantly under inflated,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration promulgated a standard which obliged automakers to install tire pressure monitors and defined the terms “significantly under-inflated.” Under the new standard, a tire was “significantly under-inflated,” and required a warning signal, when its pressure was 25 percent below the manufactures’ posted “placard” pressure, or 20 psi or less.
A trade association of tire manufacturers and the public-interest group Public Citizen each urged the agency to define “significantly under-inflated” much more rigorously – namely, as any drop below the level of pressure that would be required to support the maximum load that could be carried by a given vehicle.
Because the neither the tire manufacturers, nor Public Citizen, were the regulated parties – the NHTSA standards were applicable to automobile manufacturers – the appellate panel took a close look at the claimed injuries asserted by the petitioners. The tire manufacturers claimed that without the higher pressure standards, more tires would fail, and they would be drawn into more warranty litigation. Public Citizen alleged that without the higher pressure standards, more tires would fail, resulting in injuries to its membership.
In what is an interesting analysis, and worthwhile reading, a divided panel concludes that the tire manufacturers’ claimed injuries were too speculative to maintain its claims, but that Public Citizen would be granted an additional opportunity to establish by affidavit “whether Standard 138 as adopted creates a substantial increase in the risk of death, physical injury, or property loss” to its members.
The complete analysis, and the rationale for differing results, is accessible here