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Biden Withdraws National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Nomination

Republicans in the Senate raised concern about Ann Carlson's positions on environmental protection regulations

President Joe Biden withdrew his nomination for the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency is responsible for the investigation of motor vehicle safety and defects as well as the enforcement of fuel economy standards. The NHTSA also researches driver behavior, traffic safety, and consumer information. 

Biden announced his plan to nominate the current acting head, Ann Carlson, to formally take over the agency in February. Carlson has served as the NHTSA’s chief counsel and overseen safety probes into Tesla, according to Reuters’ report on May 30. Her nomination was received on March 27.

Prior to her time with the agency, Carlson was the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law member at the UCLA School of Law where she co-directed the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. She is married to Carl Moor, an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeals.

Biden appointed Carlson to take over as General Counsel of the NHTSA during the first month of his presidency. 

Legal Planet reported that the time:

[Carlson] is particularly noted for her teaching and scholarship in the subject areas of air pollution and climate change law and policy.

That deep expertise will come in handy as Professor Carlson helps lead NHTSA and DOT in such key initiatives as setting national vehicle mileage and automobile safety standards. Additionally, those federal agencies will be major contributors to the Biden Administration’s holistic approach to fashioning national climate change policy.

Carlson took over as acting head of the NHTSA in September 2022 after then-head Steven Cliff left to take over as executive director of the California Air Resources Board. Ciff had been confirmed by the Senate in late May of 2022. Prior to Cliff, the NHTSA has been without a confirmed head since 2017.

“Without that Senate-confirmed leadership, it’s hard to implement the safety measures that need to be implemented,” Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs at the advocacy group National Safety Council, told Bloomberg Law at the time. “It’s going to be months before we could get somebody confirmed now starting from scratch again.”

Carlson’s nomination hit a roadblock in early May when Senate Republicans on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee signaled their concern about her environmental ideology.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and the 12 other Republicans on the committee co-signed a letter expressing concern that Carlson would push policies that promoted the purchase of electric vehicles and back the Environmental Protection Agency’s directives regarding stricter fuel economy standards.

“Based on your record, we are deeply concerned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will follow the EPA’s lead and propose similarly radical vehicle fuel economy standards that run contrary to the law, diminish vehicle choice, impose higher costs on American families, and undermine our national and energy security all while benefitting China,” wrote the senators, per The Hill.

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