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States are closer to trimming autos' CO2 emissions

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• Causing federal judges in two similar cases brought by the auto industry – one in California, the other in Rhode Island – to dismiss those cases if they determine the industry has had its day in court and further proceedings would be redundant, according to environmental lawyers.

The efforts by the 12 states with laws in place could cut emissions by 100 million tons annually. By comparison, however, US cars and light trucks emit 1.5 billion tons annually.

Still, this would be "the most significant step so far" on vehicle emissions and pave the way for broader action, says Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicle program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington environmental group not party to the lawsuit.

Environmental groups, who joined Vermont as defendants in the current case, have been exultant. "This extremely important ruling makes clear that the US EPA and states acting under the Clean Air Act do have the power to set more stringent emissions limits on cars and can also regulate greenhouse gases," says attorney Matt Pawa, who represented the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and Environmental Defense.

Following the three-week trial, it was quite clear that US district judge William Sessions found less than convincing the arguments of auto-industry experts, who testified that the industry lacks the technology to make such vehicles and cannot afford to do so. The companies, he wrote, "have not carried their burden to show that compliance with the regulation is not feasible; nor have they demonstrated that it will limit consumer choice, create economic hardship for the automobile industry, cause significant job loss or undermine safety."

Auto-industry officials sounded a defiant note and promised to use what influence they could to try to block the EPA waiver to California, as well as potentially launch a court appeal.

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