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California Attorney General Sues Big Six Automakers for Global Warming Damages

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has filed a lawsuit against leading US and Japanese auto manufacturers, alleging their vehicles’ emissions have contributed significantly to global warming, harmed the resources, infrastructure and environmental health of California, and cost the state millions of dollars to address current and future effects.

Filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, the complaint names as defendants: Chrysler Motors Corporation, General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., Honda North America, and Nissan North America.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by greenhouse gases that their products emit. Lockyer filed the lawsuit on behalf of the People of the State of California.

Currently, automakers are challenging in Federal court California’s law regulating the emissions of greenhouse emissions. (Earlier post.) In their federal-court lawsuit, the automakers claim the regulations, adopted in 2005 through legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Fran Pavley, are pre-empted by federal law.

Global warming is causing significant harm to California’s environment, economy, agriculture and public health. The impacts are already costing millions of dollars and the price tag is increasing. Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the federal government and automakers have refused to act. It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis.

—Attorney General Lockyer

The complaint alleges that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing “millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide,” a greenhouse gas that traps atmospheric heat and causes global warming. Under the law, a public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a public right, or an action that interferes with or causes harm to life, health or property. The complaint asks the court to hold the defendants liable for damages, including future harm, caused by their ongoing, substantial contribution to the public nuisance of global warming.

As stated in the complaint, the automakers produce vehicles that emit a combined 289 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the United States each year. Those emissions, the complaint alleges, currently account for nearly 20% of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and more than 30% in California. The defendants rank “among the world’s largest contributors to global warming and the adverse impacts on California,” according to the complaint. California is the world’s 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The US Supreme Court is currently reviewing a lawsuit filed by Lockyer, 11 other Attorneys General, two cities and major environmental groups challenging the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Numerous parties have submitted amicus briefs supporting the states, including climate scientists, three former EPA Administrators, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and environmental and religious groups.

In addition, Lockyer, along with nine other state Attorneys General, the District of Columbia and the City of New York, filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the Bush Administration’s new fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks. That complaint alleges the rules fail to address the effects on the environment and global warming.

According to a report recently submitted by the Climate Action Team to Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature, the consequences of climate change in California will be severe.

We are seeing the harmful impacts of global warming today, and if we continue with business as usual, we can expect to see more and larger impacts in the future. As a coastal state, an agricultural state, and a state that relies on its Sierra snow pack, California has an enormous stake in acting now to combat global warming.

—Attorney General Lockyer

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Comments

ka

Stupid suit, mfr's should close all California plants and refuse to sell or service in the state of California. Idiots in that state should not be driving.

marcus

Well its about time things started to get serious around here. We can't wait, or take our chances on the next president.

marcus

"Idiots in that State should not be driving". Yeah, right. Why not apply the same logic to the rest of the states? The cars are doing the same things there as well. Something has to occur to move things along faster than they are going. If it has to come down to litigation blame Bush for not instigating something more intelligent and flexible years ago.

Cervus

Marcus:

You can also blame the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution, passed 95-0 in the Senate:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that--

(1) the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would--

(A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period, or

(B) would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States; and

(2) any such protocol or other agreement which would require the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification should be accompanied by a detailed explanation of any legislation or regulatory actions that may be required to implement the protocol or other agreement and should also be accompanied by an analysis of the detailed financial costs and other impacts on the economy of the United States which would be incurred by the implementation of the protocol or other agreement.

Patrick

Yes blame Bush for not raising CAFE standards unlike Clilnton...oh wait, he didn't do a damn thing either.

JRod

When is the fine gentleman going to file a lawsuit against the operators of those vehicles? If I run over someone they come after me not GM right? I would like to see the state attorney general file a suit againt the people of California.

This is one of the most immature lawsuits I have seen. And that is saying something in this country.

I would rather blame Cheney/Halliburton, it is so much easier.

JRod.

Joff Pentz

You guys are idiots if you think this suit will go anywhere or accomplish anything.

Bill Lockyer is well known for his empty headed political posturing. He would sue his mom if he thought it would make some sort of hip PC statement.

Sid Hoffman

This is awesome, they should sue all the technology companies too for all the electricity their datacenters use. That will help drive the continued business exodus from California to all the other states which is good news for the other members of the lower 48.

Neil

I knew Americans were litigeous ... this one's nothing short of astouding. Isn't there some kind of annual award for the most rediculous lawsuit?

fyi CO2

I don't expect any settlement in this litigous matter, but it certainly might get a few more heads in Washington to come up from the sand where they have been buried.

Herb Sewl

What do you expect from the land of fruits and nuts? I just wish they would stay in California. They are coming to Arizona and bringing their nonsense with them.

FiY CO3

I hope they drive all the businesses out of California. Honestly, we're tired of dealing with them all. I hope they sue all businesses for 80 trillion dollars and split it all among us Californians. We could use the money, and it would teach some heads in the Washington sands a lesson!

Energex42

The automakers sued the California state, so the California state is suing back.

jw

You can also blame the 1997...

Blame something that's a decade old?

jw

Yes blame Bush for not raising CAFE standards unlike Clilnton...oh wait, he didn't do a damn thing either.

Clinton tried to raise the gas tax 50 cents and got skewered on the issue - by the Republicans and a lot of the oil state Democrats.

You too young to recall that?

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