States Pick up Pace in Push for 'Cleaner Cars'

On Sept. 12, a federal judge ruled that states can limit vehicle emissions of gases that contribute to global warming. On the same day, 13 governors sent a letter to automotive corporations calling on them to drop lawsuits challenging state-set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from autos.

In a 240-page decision, Judge William Sessions of the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont (http://www.vtd.uscourts.gov) rejected automakers' claims that federal law preempts state rules and that technology can't be developed to meet regulations adopted by Vermont and California that establish greenhouse gas emissions standards for new automobiles (Green Mt. Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep vs. Crombie, Case No. 2:05-cv-302, consolidated with Case No. 2:05-cv-304).

In 2004, California adopted a comprehensive set of greenhouse-gas emissions regulations for new motor vehicles, including standards applicable to large-volume motor vehicle manufacturers beginning in model year 2009. California applied to EPA for a waiver of federal preemption under the Clean Air Act in 2005; its application remains pending. Also in 2005, Vermont adopted regulations identical to California's standards.

U.S. District Judge William Sessions noted that nothing in federal law "indicates that Congress intended to displace emission regulation by California that would have an effect on fuel economy."

A federal judge in California is scheduled to hear an almost identical challenge to the California rules. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22. Also, EPA still needs to grant California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to permit the standards to take effect. Sessions stated that the laws in California, Vermont and other states that have followed the California model will become unenforceable if the federal agency denies the waiver. On Sept. 12, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. renewed his vow to "haul the Bush administration into court" if EPA refuses to grant California's request.

In the Sept. 12 letter, the governors asked the automotive leaders to withdraw the 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 stated. "We would prefer to follow a path that encourages innovation not litigation."

The states involved in the letter are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington.

A copy of the letter from the governors is available in PDF format at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2007news/20070912_GovsAutoLetter.pdf.

In response to the ruling, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (http://www.autoalliance.org) issued a statement that it will continue to study the decision and considering the options, including an appeal.

"Federal law is designed to ensure a consistent fuel economy program across the country," said Dave McCurdy, president & CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "It makes sense that only the federal government can regulate fuel economy. Automakers support improving fuel economy standards nationally, rather than piecemeal."

Check out the archives of Environmental Protection magazine Web site for additional articles related to greenhouse gases, including: "States Join Collaboration to Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions."

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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