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  Geotimes - November 2007 - Auto ruling paves the way for efficiency standards
NEWS NOTES

Energy and Resources
Auto ruling paves the way for efficiency standards

Much to the chagrin of the auto industry, a federal judge ruled in September that states have the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Judge William Sessions III of the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., upheld Vermont regulations that the auto industry claims are tantamount to enforcing fuel economy standards stricter than what national laws require. The decision, environmentalists say, could spur Congress to pass more comprehensive energy legislation and set higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

Under the Clean Air Act, it is the job of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate air pollutants from cars. The law allows California — because of its high concentration of cars and intense smog as well as its history of innovative motor vehicle emissions laws — to petition EPA for a waiver from the national standards and instead enact its own regulations. It is the only state allowed to do so. If the waiver is granted, however, other states may choose to adopt the California rules instead of the national ones. In 2005, Vermont did just that, adopting California regulations that call for a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 2016, according to Greenwire. California is still waiting to receive its waiver from EPA.

To meet such regulations, the auto industry says it would have to improve its CAFE standards to nearly 43 miles per gallon, according to Greenwire, which is much higher than the current federal regulations that call for a minimum of 27.5 miles per gallon first enacted more than 20 years ago. In June, the Senate passed an energy bill calling for a CAFE increase to 35 miles per gallon for new cars by 2020 (see Geotimes online, Web Extra, June 22, 2007), which is still lower than what would be required in California and Vermont.

In addition to citing that states do not have the right to pass such regulations, the auto industry claims that the new standards would require changes that are not feasible from a technological or economic standpoint. The judge disagreed: “History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges … the court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California’s [greenhouse gas] regulations,” Sessions wrote in his decision Sept. 12.

The ruling could lead to a dismissal of a similar lawsuit pending in California, legal analysts say, and could also prompt EPA to grant California its waiver. At least six other states, including Arizona, Florida and Illinois, have been considering passing similar emissions standards and may join the 12 states that already have.

Erin Wayman

Links:
"Senate passes energy bill," Geotimes online, Web Extra, June 22, 2007 

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