Court Ruling Adds Pressure to Grant CA Auto Emissions Waiver

By Published On: December 14, 2007

A U.S. district court judge December 12 threw out a suit by the automotive industry that claims California’s greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars cannot be legally enforced. In a 57-page ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno, Judge Anthony Ishii rejected arguments by the auto industry that the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act and foreign policy doctrine pre-empt California from setting the standards. “California,” wrote Ishii, is “empowered through the Clean Air Act to promulgate regulations that limit emission of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, from motor vehicles.” California Attorney General Jerry Brown heralded the decision, calling it a “stinging rejection” of the industry’s challenge to California’s greenhouse gas emissions law for vehicles. Under a 2002 law, AB 1493, automakers are to cut greenhouse gases from cars sold in California by 30 percent by 2016. Cars emit about 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases and 20 percent of the nation’s emissions. Other states in the Northeast have opted to enforce the limit within their borders too under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act. That clause allows California to set its own automotive emissions standards that are stricter than federal requirements. The Act further allows other states to enforce standards identical to California’s in lieu of federal ones, though they are prohibited from setting their own unique standards. Reacting to the court action, an auto industry trade group said it might appeal. “We need a consistent national policy for fuel economy, and this nationwide policy cannot be written by a single state or group of states,” said Dave McCurdy, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers chief executive officer. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted the California and other states ultimately “will prevail in our goal to take aggressive action on climate change.” In challenging the California standards, the industry argued that they were aimed at increasing vehicle mileage, not reducing emissions of an air pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in April that CO2 is an air pollutant that the federal Environmental Protection Agency and California can regulate under the Act. Following that ruling, a Vermont district court judge in September dismissed a similar suit filed by the auto industry against enforcement of the California greenhouse gas emissions standards in the Northeast. Before Ishii, the industry also argued that California’s emissions standards eliminated the President’s ability to hold rules on greenhouse gas emissions in abeyance as a “bargaining chip” in international negotiations on global warming. Ishii rejected the argument, writing that the automakers had failed to make even a “prima facie case.” After the previous legal victories for the state standards, Brown said the latest “court ruling leaves the Bush Administration as the last remaining roadblock to California’s regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.” Before states can enforce those standards, U.S. EPA must issue a waiver under the Clean Air Act. U.S. EPA has issued all previous waivers requested by California, but dragged its heels on granting permission to enforce the state’s greenhouse gas limits. Last month, the delay prompted Brown and a group of states to ask a federal court to order U.S. EPA to issue the waiver. U.S. EPA promised a decision by the end of the year.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now