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Automakers pitch first climate-change court fight in Vermont

The case began just days after a US Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gases.

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The legal fight over global warming entered the realm of states' rights this week – a political arena that could dramatically shape the way in which the United States tackles climate change.

In federal court in Burlington, Vt., April 10, automakers and dealers challenged the state's right to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions. It was the first in what are expected to be a series of court fights over jurisdiction in stemming global warming.

In opening testimony, auto executives issued stark warnings.

"The standards we've had to make changes to in the past are incremental," said Alan Weverstad, executive director of General Motors' environment and energy unit. Lowering carbon emissions as much as the states want will involve "fuel economy requirements that are just unbelievably extreme," he told the Associated Press.

Environmental advocates said GM's argument smacked of crying wolf.

"This is the same old saw of pessimism that we've heard from the auto industry time and again," said Christopher Kilian, director of the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation. He pointed to catalytic converters, air bags, and seat belts as just some of the technologies imposed by regulators over the objections of manufacturers.

Coincidentally, the Vermont court case begins just days after Massachusetts and 11 other states (including Vermont) won a US Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must exercise its authority under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases – a position opposed by the Bush administration.

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