Judge rejects automakers' bid to scrap state emission rules
By DAVE GRAM
The Associated Press | September 12,2007
MONTPELIER - State rules on greenhouse gas emissions don't conflict with federal mileage standards and automakers should be able to develop the technology to meet them, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
"There is no question that the GHG (greenhouse gas) regulations present great challenges to automakers," Judge William Sessions III, sitting in the U.S. District Court in Burlington, wrote at the conclusion of his 240-page decision.
He added, "History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges. In light of the public statements of industry representatives, (the) history of compliance with previous technological challenges, and the state of the record, the court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California's GHG regulations."
During a 16-day trial that concluded in May, auto industry executives testified that the regulations - adopted by California and 14 other states - would not stop global warming but would impose devastating new costs on the industry.
Slated to start phasing in as of 2009, the limits would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks by 2016, a standard the car makers have maintained would require average fuel economy standards for cars and the lightest category of trucks of 43.7 miles per gallon.
Automakers maintained that cutting carbon requires improving fuel economy, since carbon emissions are proportional to the amount of gasoline burned. And they said fuel economy, under a 1975 federal law, is solely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The states argued that they can regulate carbon emissions as a tailpipe pollutant under another federal law, the Clean Air Act.
That 1970 law set up a two-tiered system under which California and other states that have joined it are allowed to set limits on pollution from vehicles that are more stringent than those set by the federal government. States could choose either the federal rules or the California rules.
California upped the ante in 2005 by adding carbon dioxide to its list of regulated tailpipe emissions. Other states were required either to apply the enhanced California rules or revert to the federal standard. So far 14, including Vermont, have decided to go with the California rules.
Automakers filed suit in California, Vermont and Rhode Island. Vermont's case was the first to go to trial, after a federal judge in California put a similar case there on hold pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The high court ruled in March that it can do so.
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office represented the state in the trial, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of a main plaintiff in the Vermont lawsuit, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement, "It makes sense that only the federal government can regulate fuel economy. Automakers support improving fuel economy standards nationally, rather than piecemeal, and will continue to work with the Congress, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and EPA to reduce our oil dependence while increasing fuel economy."
McCurdy said his group may appeal the decision.
A hearing is set for Oct. 22 in a similar case in California. But Matt Pawa, a lawyer who represented three national environmental groups in the Vermont trial, said the Vermont ruling makes it likely the California case will be dismissed.
"The persuasiveness of Judge Sessions' decision, we expect, should carry the day" in California, Pawa said.
He called the ruling "a historic win for the planet, for Vermont, for the cause to curtail global warming, and for the right of states to set more stringent limits on all kinds of pollution, including greenhouse gas emission standards."