Federal Judge Delays Trial Over California Auto-Emission Rules
SACRAMENTO -- A federal judge on Tuesday postponed the trial over a lawsuit seeking to block a California law that would implement the world's toughest vehicle-emission standards.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii also ordered the California Air Resources Board to delay enforcing tailpipe-emission standards for greenhouse gases. The case had been scheduled to go to trial Jan. 30.
In his order, Ishii said it was best to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a related global warming case.
"It's a logical thing to do," said David Doniger, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is helping the state defend the regulations. "The Supreme Court has the very same issue in front of it. We should wait to see what the highest court in the land is going to say."
California passed the law regulating tailpipe standards for automobiles in 2002 as part of its effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and adopted the standards two years later. It has applied to the federal government for a waiver to let it implement the regulations under the Clean Air Act.
Business interests led by a Central Valley car dealership and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers sued the state. They claim the rule is a de-facto mandate on fuel-economy standards, which can be set only by the federal government.
California is the world's 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gases. The auto rules are designed to cut emissions from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from sport utility vehicles by 18 percent beginning in 2009.
A spokesman for Attorney General Jerry Brown said the state is awaiting the Supreme Court's decision.
"We feel confident when that happens we'll be able to make the next step to enforcing the California law," spokesman Gareth Lacy said.
At a hearing in September, attorneys for the auto manufacturers said the technology did not exist to meet the California standards or could not be applied in a cost-effective way to cars sold in the United States. They argued the rules would increase the cost of vehicles and eliminate some types of trucks used by farmers.
In his 23-page ruling, Ishii sided with auto manufacturers by ordering the state not to implement the regulations without a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. Although state officials previously acknowledged they must wait for the waiver, the ruling relieves the industry from spending money to get ready for the possible mandate.
"The regulations are not enforceable," said Raymond Ludwiszewski, an attorney representing the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year in a Massachusetts case about whether greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. A decision in the case could have implications for California and 10 other states that have adopted the stricter California auto standard.
California can set its own vehicle pollution standards because it began regulating air pollution before the federal government. However, the state must obtain an EPA waiver before it can implement new requirements. Its application is pending.
If the court or the federal government rejects California's tougher tailpipe-emission standards, the state must look elsewhere to achieve greenhouse gas reductions, according to a global warming law signed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The law caps the amount of greenhouse gases in the state at 1990 levels by 2020. The auto regulations account for about a third of that target.
"Controlling the emissions from our cars and trucks is an essential component to meeting our targets," California Environmental Protection Secretary Linda Adams said in a statement. "We will continue to fight and look forward to getting a waiver from U.S. EPA."
The auto industry sued California in December 2004, three months after the board adopted the standards. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has supported the law, and this month proposed additional regulations to lower the carbon in fuel.
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Source: Associated Press