Judge Rejects Carmakers' Emission Suit
Wednesday, September 12, 2007; 6:39 PM
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Vermont and several other states scored a victory on Wednesday in their battle to get automakers to comply with rules aimed at reducing global warming.
A federal judge ruled that states can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, rejecting automakers' claims that federal law pre-empts state rules and that technology can't be developed to meet them.
"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 11 other states and pending in three others _ 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.
For the rules to take effect, the Environmental Protection Agency still must grant a waiver applied for by California under the federal Clean Air Act. California has won several such waivers in the past, allowing it to set up more stringent vehicle anti-pollution standards than the federal government's and then for other states to piggyback on them.
David Doniger, senior climate lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental groups that sided with Vermont, said the waiver request was given a big boost by an April 2 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying carbon dioxide was a pollutant worthy of regulation.
Doniger said the EPA could deny the waiver if it finds that achieving the carbon reduction standard was not technically feasible. But he said automakers "threw everything they had," providing copious documents and experts to try to persuade the judge that was the case, and he didn't buy it.
Gov. Jim Douglas hailed the court's ruling. "We were up against a very strong adversary in the auto industry, but the law and the facts were clearly on our side," he said. "Most of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions are from motor vehicles, so if we're going to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to set high but achievable standards for automobiles."
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of a main plaintiff in the Vermont suit, 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.