Federal Preemption and NYC’s Taxi Fleet

An earlier post on this page discussed the issue of federal preemption of state laws and regulations in the case of Wyeth v. Levine where the US Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 3. The issue now takes on a local flavor here in New York City. One way to describe the local case is:

The owner of a fleet of taxis, a cab driver and a frequent taxi cab passenger walk into a federal court room and sue the City of New York and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) claiming that local regulations that set minimum fuel efficiency standards for city cabs are preempted by federal laws that reserve regulation of those standards to federal agencies. Will the judge dismiss the suit and allow New York City to regulate its taxi fleet under a theory of home rule? Or will the judge rule that the City was indirectly trying to regulate fuel efficiency for automobiles covered by federal law.

The answer is not entirely clear but the opinion of Judge Paul A. Crotty of the Southern District of New York in Metropolitan Taxicab Board v City of New York suggests that the TLC may not set fuel efficiency standards for taxis holding a medallion from the city by virtue of the preemption doctrine. The ruling states that the TLC rule requiring taxis with medallions to achieve 30 mpg was an indirect way to regulate fuel efficiency for automobiles covered by federal law. The judge cited the expressly stated preemption clause in the Energy Policy & Conservation Act’s (EPCA) codified at 49 U.S.C. § 32919(a):

When an average fuel economy standard prescribed under this chapter . . . . is in effect, a State or political subdivision of a State may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards for automobiles covered by an average fuel economy standard under this chapter.

For more on the story and how its impact on New York City’s attempts to regulate the taxi industry, see the WSJ Law Blog story Preemption Means Latka Won’t Have To Fix Yellow Hybrids — Yet.

SARA, the library catalog, lists Congressional Preemption of State Laws and Regulations (Call # KF4600 .U55 2006), a 56 page partisan report prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman. The report evaluates the legislative record of the Republican Congress and President on federal preemption of state and local laws. Despite repeated support of federalism and states’ rights by the Republican Party, the report reveals that the GOP Congress and the President routinely backed federal legislation usurping traditional state powers.

The tensions between home rule and the regulatory powers of the federal government is explored in another item in the library collection, Saving our Environment from Washington: How Congress Grabs Power, Shirks Responsibility, and Shortchanges the People by David Schoenbrod (Call # GE180 .S374 2005).