Environment

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Vermont’s Right to Regulate Car Emissions Upheld

September 14, 2007 04:45 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In a case that will affect energy policy nationwide, U.S. District Judge in Vermont William Sessions III has upheld the state’s right to set its own standards for automobile emissions despite opposition from U.S. automakers. 

30-Second Summary

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Vermont has the fewest cars of any state in the country. Yet its newly upheld law mandating that automakers cut the carbon-dioxide emissions of cars sold in the state by 30 percent come 2016 could impact the entire automobile industry.

The regulations are modeled after laws drafted in California, where federal law grants the state the unique ability to set its own air quality standards as long as it gets an EPA waiver. Although the EPA has yet to make a decision on California’s waiver application, federal law allows other states to adopt California’s air quality law as long as it remains unchanged. However, without an EPA waiver no state can enforce the regulations.

A total of 12 states have already passed California–type regulations, and six others have begun adopting them. Automakers have tried to combat the states’ standards by suing in California, Vermont and Rhode Island. The plaintiffs argue that only the federal government has the authority to set emissions and fuel economy standards. The decision in Vermont, the first case of the three to go to trial, will likely have implications both at the state and federal levels.

The cases in California and Rhode Island are now more likely to emulate the Vermont decision or be dismissed outright. In addition, the EPA may now be more inclined to grant a waiver to California, which would allow it and the 11 other states that have adopted its law to begin enforcing emissions standards for cars sold within their borders.

At the federal level, the decision could prompt Congress—which is preparing to set federal emissions standards—to toughen its current proposals to meet those set in California. Although environmentalists hail the decision, the question remains whether U.S. automakers, already suffering from foreign competition, can remain profitable if asked to meet more stringent standards.

Headline Links: The case, the decision, and the automakers’ argument

Background: The effects, California’s waiver, and the EPA’s responsibility

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has issued a report saying that California’s EPA waiver request “appears to have a strong case.” Although EPA chief Stephen Johnson has said he will decide the case by the end of the year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to sue in federal court if a decision is not made by the end of October. California submitted its waiver request in October 2005.

Reactions: State governors and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

Opinions: Historic victory or an overreach of states’ rights?

Reference Material: Vermont’s lawyer, California’s emissions legislation, and the effects of carbon dioxide

Related Topics: Industries seek regulation, U.S. emissions increase, Illinois considers California law, European SUVs, and warming litigation

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