Hey everyone, Erin Rogers, the California outreach coordinator for UCS here with my first blog. I thought clean vehicle enthusiasts would be interested in an inside report on one of the first big legal steps in the automaker lawsuit to block California’s global warming pollution standards on autos. I was in Fresno’s federal court last week, as a judge made the first major ruling in a case that could make or break global warming standards for vehicles in eleven states—roughly a third of the US auto market.
Back in 2002, the California legislature passed a bill that required automakers to reduce global warming emissions from new vehicles by approximately 30 percent by 2016. The law was specifically written to allow automakers to use existing, off-the-shelf technology to make the reductions—stuff like variable valve timing, continuously variable transmission, low-resistance tires, better air-conditioning systems, and slicker aerodynamics. More hybrids certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it’s just one tool on a very large shelf of existing technologies they can use.
Unfortunately, the Big Three automakers and Toyota, under the guise of our old friends at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Honda with several other foreign automakers under the Alliance of International Automobile Manufacturers, and thirteen California auto dealerships promptly filed suit to block this law.
The California Attorney General and several environmental groups struck back earlier this month with a motion to dismiss the whole case on the grounds that none automakers’ legal claims come close to holding water. On September 25, the judge agreed on two of automaker’s five legal claims and threw them out. But he allowed the automakers a chance to argue the remaining three in a trial starting in January, 2007.
I was in the courtroom in Fresno and these are some of the key claims the automaker lawyers made.
- Bush’s EPA has determined that carbon dioxide (CO2)—a major global warming gas—is not a pollutant and therefore cannot be regulated. Following this logic, the automakers claim that the EPA cannot allow California to regulate CO2 emissions either. The truth is that the Clean Air Act very clearly states that the EPA CAN regulate any pollutant emitted by motor vehicles that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” What do they mean by “welfare”? “Welfare’ includes “effects on…weather, visibility, and climate.” There is also a pending Supreme Court case that could well decide the fate of this issue.
- California’s global warming law is merely a “fuel-economy standard in disguise,” that would “frustrate the accomplishment of federal objectives” for setting minimum national fuel economy standards. This is simply untrue, as this initiative is one cog in a larger global warming pollution reduction strategy. If the automakers were being singled out, that would be one thing. But California has passed laws requiring every single sector of the economy to reduce carbon emissions, and the state is only asking the automakers to do their fair share as the state’s single largest source of global warming pollution.
- (This is my favorite) California’s law to reduce emissions from cars and trucks sold within its borders will “frustrate established foreign policy," by interfering with the president’s and congress’s authority over foreign affairs. The autos’ argument goes like this: because developing countries have not joined the Kyoto Treaty (which the US hasn’t joined, either), California should not be allowed to implement its global warming regulations because these regulations could undermine the federal government's attempts to "arm-twist" developing nations to make emissions reductions. Uh, it’s hard to frustrate something that isn’t happening, no? There is no “established foreign policy” that bars states from curbing global warming pollution from within their borders. And besides, California’s leadership on this issue has thus far only inspired other countries to follow its lead and reduce emissions from their fleets. Just this week, Canada’s Conservative government announced that it would adopt the California standard for it vehicles.
With Governor Schwarzenegger signing the California Global Warming Solutions Act into law, it’s clear that California is asking every sector of the economy to significantly reduce global warming emissions. The automakers must do their part. We’ll continue to push the automakers to drop this lawsuit and use their engineers to start making the cleaners cars that consumers across America are clamoring for. For more info and updates on how the case is proceeding and what you can do to help, go to our Automakers v. The People feature.
Posted by: Erin