Thursday, December 13, 2007

Federal Judge Upholds Law on Emissions in California

NY Times
By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: December 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Sacramento on Wednesday upheld a California law regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, another in a string of legal defeats for the auto industry this year.

The ruling, by Judge Anthony W. Ishii of United States District Court, affirms a 2002 California law that would effectively force automakers to raise the average fuel economy of fleets by about 30 percent by 2016. A bill pending in Congress demands a 40 percent mileage increase by 2020.

The auto companies challenged the California law, which 15 other states say they intend to adopt, saying that it is technically and financially impossible to meet. They also argued that regulation of vehicle mileage is the responsibility of the federal government, not the states.

“We can all agree that higher fuel economy is important, but the issue here was about federal fuel economy law,” said Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “Under federal law, only the federal government can set fuel economy standards for all 50 states.”

Mr. McCurdy noted that the industry had agreed to a pending Congressional mandate to achieve a 35-mile-per-gallon fleetwide average by 2020.

Judge Ishii, though, said that California was entitled to set its own stricter standards under the Clean Air Act, if the Environmental Protection Agency grants a waiver from federal law, which it has done dozens of times in the last 35 years. California applied to the Bush administration for a waiver in December 2005. The White House has said that it will issue a decision by the end of this month.

While Republican and Democratic administrations have routinely granted California waivers on pollution programs, this one is more controversial because the auto companies and other industries are lobbying heavily against it, saying it will cost them too much to comply. The White House has not tipped its hand on California’s application.

The judge also rejected the automakers’ claim that the state law usurps the federal government’s right to conduct foreign policy because climate change is a global problem. He said there was no legal precedent for the claim.

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California called the ruling “a major victory.”

“This is the fourth defeat for the Bush administration and the auto companies,” Mr. Brown said, “and I hope it sends a powerful message to the White House and to Congress that California’s role as an innovator should be appreciated and not negated.”

He was referring to an April decision by the United States Supreme Court affirming the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions; a federal court ruling from Vermont in May upholding California’s law; and a federal appeals court ruling in November chastising the Department of Transportation for failing to enforce its vehicle mileage rules and for not taking the impact of exhaust gases into account.

In 2002, California adopted the first state law requiring auto makers to begin reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases. In 2004, it issued rules for achieving the reductions. Vermont adopted the same standards, as did other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Fran Pavley, a former member of the California State Assembly who wrote the emissions bill, said on Wednesday that Judge Ishii’s ruling represented a legal tipping point, leaving the automakers and the Bush administration isolated on the regulation of gases that scientists say contribute to global warming.

“What we’re finding is that this is a bipartisan issue,” Ms. Pavley said. “The states have moved on and they are working together to be responsible in doing their fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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