Sorrell's office defends Califorinia emissions law against automakers' challenge

John O'Brien Sep. 12, 2007, 2:50pm

BURLINGTON, Vt. - A federal judge in Vermont on Wednesday ruled the State of Vermont did not preempt federal law when it adopted restrictions on greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles.

A group of automakers sued the State in 2005 (a copy of the complaint can be found here) after the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation amended its Low Emission Vehicle program, exceeding the regulations placed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in its Clean Air Act. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell's office defended the State.

"This is such a big win," Sorrell said. "For those concerned about a healthier environment and those concerned about global warming, this is indeed a day to celebrate."

Vermont is one of 11 states that have adopted California's emissions measures that the State passed in 2004. In a 244-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Sessions III said the Vermont case involved the overlap between state law and the federal Clean Air Act and Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

"Section 202 of the CAA requires the (EPA) to establish standards for the control of any air pollutant emitted from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines which in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. 42 U.S.C. § 7521(a)(1)," Sessions wrote.

"Section 209(a) preempts a state from adopting its own motor vehicle emission control standards, while Section 209(b) requires EPA to waive preemption for a California-adopted standard that meets certain conditions."

Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington have all adopted California's standard.

General Motors, Daimler Chrysler and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers filed the suit in Nov. 2005, alleging that technology could not keep up with the restrictions. They argued the law would put a strain on car-buyers while doing little to curb emissions.

The limits, which are schedule to begin in 2009, require a 30 percent reduction in GHG emissions from automobiles by 2016. In his opinion, Sessions put the onus on the automobile industry.

"History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges," he wrote.

"In light of the public statements of industry representatives, history of compliance with previous technological challenges, and the state of the record, the Court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California's GHG regulations."

Sessions wrote several technological developments will help the industry comply with the standards.

"(A)utomakers describe intensive efforts to develop and utilize new technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. American automakers are in the vanguard of utilizing hybrid technology to dramatically improve fuel economy. Clean diesel technology is being offered in a growing number of vehicles," he wrote.

"Dramatic improvements to powertrain technologies are under study and may be available in the not-too-distant future. Alternative fuels such as ethanol provide another strategy for reducing GHG emissions. The manufacturers have become fully engaged in developing these technologies to address emissions concerns, and those efforts are front-and-center in the public record."

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