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Vermont Court: States Can Control Greenhouse Emissions from Cars

BURLINGTON, Vermont, September 12, 2007 (ENS) - A federal court in Vermont today sided with the states that have adopted new clean car standards enacted by California in a decision that paves the way for new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. These standards are expected to reduce global warming emissions from cars some 30 percent when fully implemented in 2016.

The lawsuit was brought by U.S. automakers and dealers, who claimed Vermont regulations setting limits on these emissions are burdensome and cause undue economic harm to the industry while not addressing global warming.

William K. Sessions III, Chief U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Vermont, rejected all of the manufacturers' and dealers' challenges to the state greenhouse gas emissions standards, ruling that auto manufacturers can meet the new standards adopted by California and 14 other states.

Chief Judge William K. Sessions, III (Photo courtesy Office of the U.S. Courts)
Judge Sessions affirmed that Vermont's 2005 law to control greenhouse gas emissions is not preempted by the federal law.

Under the Clean Air Act, California and the other states can adopt stricter than federal standards by obtaining a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, but the federal agency has not acted on California's request for a waiver, made in 2005.

In response to the ruling, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. renewed his vow to "haul the Bush administration into court" if the EPA refuses to grant California's request to impose tough emissions standards on motor vehicles.

Responding to today's decision Brown said, "Unfortunately, today's decision upholding California's greenhouse gas emissions standards will turn out to be a hollow victory if the EPA persists in denying California's waiver petition."

The Bush administration has been "ducking California's request since 2005," Brown said. "We will haul the Bush administration into court if it persists in stalling on our request to regulate emissions from motor vehicles," he warned.

In 2002, California adopted AB 1493 to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles to fight global warming. Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have enacted the California law and are also waiting for federal approval.

Emissions from automobiles contribute to the blanket of atmospheric gases trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet. (Photo courtesy Webasto)
"Our petition represents a reasoned approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and it has been shamefully ignored for almost two years," Brown said.

This ruling is viewed as a watershed moment in the legal battle over the California Standards and is expected to influence rulings in similar cases pending in California and Rhode Island.

"This ruling takes away the last excuse for delay. It's time for EPA to clear the way for cleaner cars," said Jim Tripp, general counsel for the nonprofit group Environmental Defense, who helped argue the Vermont case. "The U.S. auto industry should stop litigating and start innovating."

Environmental Defense has filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA if the agency does not rule on the California waiver request by November 2007.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, has introduced legislation in Congress to require the EPA to grant the waiver.

Sierra Club's Chief Climate Counsel David Bookbinder said, "Today's decision in Vermont is a dramatic win in the fight against global warming. It affirms the rights of states to move forward with the kind of bold, visionary action that they need in order to protect their citizens and everyone needs if we are to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming."

Phish fans stuck in Vermont traffic on their way to a concert. (Photo by Gordon Alexander courtesy Log Cabin Chronicles)
"This decision should put the nail in the coffin of the failed arguments of the auto industry," Bookbinder said. "In this trial they used every tired argument about safety, job losses, lack of technology, and doubts about the science of global warming that they had - the same things they have been saying to the public and to Congress for decades. We have long known these arguments were not true and Judge Sessions' ruling indicates that he did not believe them either."

"Federal law is designed to ensure a consistent fuel economy program across the country," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of American Automobile Manufacturers, which brought the lawsuit.

"It makes sense that only the federal government can regulate fuel economy," McCurdy said. "Automakers support improving fuel economy standards nationally, rather than piecemeal and will continue to work with the Congress, NHTSA [National Highway Transportation Safety Administration] and EPA to reduce our oil dependence while increasing fuel economy."

"Concerning EPA's decision on whether to grant the requested waiver, the Alliance remains committed to working with policymakers to make certain that the EPA's judgment is based on credible, sound scientific data as to what policies truly impact California, its citizens and global climate concerns," McCurdy said.

He said the Alliance is considering an appeal of the ruling.

Bookbinder called Judge Sessions' ruling "rock solid and based squarely on the facts, setting up a difficult legal situation for the automakers should they appeal this case."

"This ruling will compel the U.S. automakers to make the kind of clean, efficient cars Americans want, the kind that foreign automakers have used to surge to record profits as the U.S. auto industry buckled under the weight of its gas guzzlers," Bookbinder said. "This ruling is good for the environment, good for America, and, ultimately, good for the automakers."

To read the court's decision click here.

Thirteen of the affected governors today sent a letter to automakers asking the industry to support the governors' commitment to address climate change.

The governors asked the automotive executives to withdraw legal challenges to clean vehicle standards and work with the states to reverse the threat of global warming.

"We do not believe it is productive for your industry to continue to fight state implementation of clean tailpipe standards," the governors said. "We would prefer to follow a path that encourages innovation not litigation."

"The public is demanding that states, in the absence of federal action, take real and meaningful steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases," the governors wrote. "Ensuring that our automobiles have a lower carbon footprint is an essential piece of our greenhouse gas reduction strategy."

The governors explained that in the United States, the passenger vehicle/light duty truck sector is second only to the electricity sector in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.



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