US: Automakers consider emissions ruling appeal

By just-auto.com editorial team | 13 September 2007

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in the US is considering an appeal against a Vermont court ruling that endorses the right of California to set its own regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, and that other states have the right to follow its lead.

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

"The Alliance will continue studying the decision and considering the options, including an appeal."

A federal judge in Vermont on Wednesday gave the first legal endorsement to rules in California, being copied in 13 other states, that intend to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles and light trucks, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

The judge reportedly rejected a variety of challenges from the auto manufacturers, including their contention that the states were usurping federal authority, the NYT said.

The paper noted that the ruling followed a decision by the United States Supreme Court in April that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide as air pollutants.

The judge reportedly ruled that the auto manufacturers had not proved their claims that compliance with the rules in Vermont — clones of the groundbreaking standards adopted in California — was not feasible.

"Nor," he wrote of Vermont's regulatory framework, "have they demonstrated that it will limit consumer choice, create economic hardship for the automobile industry, cause significant job loss or undermine safety," the New York Times said.

The paper added that, though the ruling did not deal directly with the California law, it was expected to embolden efforts in California — a state with a three-decade history of subduing polluting industries and serving as a template for other states — to further reduce the emissions that many scientists say contribute to climate change.

According to the NYT, California in 2002 adopted the first state law requiring auto manufacturers to begin reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases and, in 2004, set standards for emission reductions.

Vermont adopted the same standards, as did other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, the NYT said.

Automakers sued to block the standards in Vermont and California. The Vermont lawsuit led to a trial in May and the judge's ruling on Wednesday; while the California case is pending, the report added.

The New York Times added that the federal Clean Air Act gives California the unique authority to set its own emissions standards and allows other states to adopt California's rules instead of the federal rules though the California standards require a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency.

A request for a waiver in the case of the emission standards was made in December 2005, and the EPA administrator has said he will make a decision by the end of this year, the report added.