Pollution rule puts carmakers in tough spot
Vermont and several other American states have scored a victory in their battle to get carmakers to comply with rules aimed at reducing global warming.
A federal judge ruled that states can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, rejecting carmakers' claims that federal law pre-empts state rules and that technology can't be developed to meet them.
"There is no question that the greenhouse gas regulations present great challenges to automakers," United States District Court Judge William Sessions said in his decision. But he added: "History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges."
He said the court was unconvinced that automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California's regulations.
Automotive industry executives had 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 extra costs on the industry.
The limits, scheduled to start being phased in from 2009, will require a 30 per cent 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 6.4 litres/100km.
For the rules to take effect, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must grant a waiver applied for by California under the federal Clean Air Act. California has won several such waivers, allowing it to set up more stringent anti-pollution standards than those of the Federal Government.
David Doniger, senior climate lawyer with the Natural Resources Defence Council, said the waiver request was given a big boost by a Supreme Court decision in April ruling that CO2 was a pollutant that should be regulated.
Doniger said the EPA could deny the waiver if it finds that achieving the carbon reduction standard was not technically feasible. But he said carmakers "threw everything they had" at trial, providing copious documents and experts to try to persuade the judge that was the case - and he didn't buy it.
Vermont Governor 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.
"Most of Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions are from vehicles, so if we're going to reduce our carbon footprint we need to set high but achievable standards for automobiles."
Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said that "it makes sense that only the Federal Government can regulate fuel economy. Automakers support improving fuel economy standards nationally, rather than piecemeal".
McCurdy said his group may appeal against the decision.
Carmakers maintained that cutting carbon requires improving fuel economy, since carbon emissions are proportional to the amount of fuel burned. And they said fuel economy, under a 1975 federal law, is solely under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation.
The states argued that under the Clean Air Act they could regulate carbon emissions as a tailpipe pollutant.
California upped the ante in 2005 by adding carbon dioxide to its list of regulated tailpipe emissions. Other states were required to apply the enhanced California rules or revert to the federal standard.
Vermont Attorney-General William Sorrell called the ruling "a major victory." He said that although carmakers would probably appeal, "for folks who are concerned about global warming and environmental quality in this country and in the world, this was a good day".
A hearing is set for October 22 in a similar case in California, but lawyers for national environmental groups in the Vermont trial said the Vermont ruling makes it likely the California case will be dismissed.