Friday, September 14, 2007

State Fuel Efficiency Laws Win in Court

When historians finally take stock, Vermont may look like the mouse that roared – the tiny state that brought the nation's mighty auto industry to heel by requiring cars that emit fewer greenhouse gases.
This is one scenario that could unfold following a federal judge's ruling Wednesday, which upheld a Vermont law patterned after California's mandate that the carbon-dioxide emissions of cars sold in the state must be slashed 30 percent by 2016.
The judge's finding – that federal fuel-economy laws are not in conflict with state emissions laws – is particularly significant, coming on the heels of a US Supreme Court decision in April. That ruling found that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, legal experts say.
On the one hand, Wednesday's decision strengthens the hand of
states that want to take action against global warming. But in the longer term, the impact from the ruling could lead to one nationwide standard, which is already expected by many.
In addition to the 12 states with California-style laws on the books, another six are close to acting.
The ruling this week could start dominoes falling by:
• Prompting the US EPA to grant California a waiver from the Clean Air Act allowing it, along with Vermont and the 10 other states with identical laws, to begin enforcing greenhouse-gas requirements for cars sold within their borders.
• Causing six additional states – Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, and Minnesota – to proceed with their own similar emissions requirements. Altogether, the 18 states that have such laws – or are leaning toward them – make up about half the US auto market.
• Spurring Congress to reconsider the new fuel-efficiency standards it is currently weighing, which are not as demanding as Vermont's, and mandate a tougher federal requirement that would also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
• 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.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at for energy Saving Products at

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