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October 2007

Vermont auto emissions legislation given green light
by Irwin Rapoport Write the Author

U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions ruled on September 12 that federal legislation does not prevent the State of Vermont from enacting stricter greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards and limits for cars and light trucks.

The legal challenge, launched by General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG in 2005, contends that individual states do not have the legislative authority to enact regulations on CO2 emissions, which the plaintiffs say is linked to fuel economy standards.

The ruling, issued in Burlington, is one of three identical cases that will be heard. The other two cases, currently pending, will take place in California and Rhode Island. The ruling allows Vermont to go forward with enacting the California Clean Car (Pavley) Standards, pending EPA approval.

“This decision should put the nail in the coffin of the failed arguments of the auto industry,” said David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel in a statement following the ruling. “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,” he added. “Sessions’ ruling is rock solid and based squarely on the facts - setting up a difficult legal situation for the automakers should they appeal this case.”

The case will be presided by U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii (Fresno, California), who has scheduled a hearing on October 22.

These standards, adopted by California and 11 other states, require automobile manufacturers to reduce GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2016.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still reviewing the California regulation which would apply in all 12 states. Governor Schwarzenegger says if the EPA does not approve it by October 25, his state may take the agency to court.

Sessions rejected the auto manufacturers arguments that the regulations were not feasible, were expensive and that they would be unable to sell many of their vehicles in Vermont, a point raised by General Motors and DaimlerChrysler during the trial held last April.

The judge clearly stated that the state legislation that sets fuel economy standards does not impinge on federal legislation that allows the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration from setting such standards.

The auto industry argued that the sole means of reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles is by improving fuel economy. Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA decision, Sessions stated that the EPA, under the Clean Air Act (CAA), has the ability to regulate GHG.

The CAA, added Sessions, grants California the right to establish separate emissions limits, albeit those approved by the EPA; and that the state’s CO2 emissions standards cannot be labeled as hidden fuel economy standards.

Sessions questioned the automakers contention that they would not be able to meet the goals that the California legislation requires be met by 2016.

During the trial, they stated that the legislation, which requires averages of 43.7 miles-per-gallon (MPG) for cars and 26.9 MPG for light-trucks and SUVs, were not attainable.

In particular, DaimlerChrysler and GM noted that they do not possess the ­technology to make such rapid mileage improvements.

Responding to the ruling, Dave McCurdy, the president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers issued the following statement:

“Federal law is designed to ensure a consistent fuel economy program across the country. ­It makes sense that only the federal government can regulate fuel economy. Automakers support improving fuel economy standards nationally, rather than piecemeal and will continue to work with the Congress, NHTSA and EPA to reduce our oil dependence while increasing fuel economy.

“Concerning EPA’s decision on whether to grant the requested waiver,” he adds, “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. The Alliance will continue studying the decision and considering the options, including an appeal.”

The case will likely be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as there is a possibility of three separate U.S. District Court rulings.

The issue could become moot if the House and Senate ratify similar or even stronger standards via the Energy Bill, legislation that may have been passed in September (prior to press) and sent to President George W. Bush for signature.