California Attorney General Sues Big Six Automakers for Global Warming Damages
20 September 2006
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
Global Warming Public Nuisance complaint
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