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Federal Court Rules Against Automakers in Greenhouse Gas Standards Case

Chief Judge US District Court (Vermont) William K. Sessions III on Wednesday ruled against the auto industry’s attempt to block California and other states from adopting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for new light-duty vehicles. (Earlier post.)

Judge Sessions ruled that the industry had failed to prove that the state standards embodied in California’s AB 1493 were preempted by federal authority; that the GHG standards were “sufficiently draconian” that they effectively usurp NHTSA’s (National Highway Traffic Safaety Administration) prerogative to set fuel economy standards; or that the standards were unattainable.

The California standards would cut combined greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O and HFCs) from new light-duty vehicles starting in 2009. The limits call for approximately a 22% reduction in GHG emissions from new vehicles by 2012, and approximately a 30% reduction by 2016.

AB1493 maintains the two categories of light-duty vehicles used in California’s Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) II regulations: PC/LDT1 for passenger cars, and small trucks and SUVs; and LDT2/MDV for large trucks and SUVs. Work trucks are explicitly exempt from the GHG requirement.

AB1493 allows credit trading between the two categories and between manufacturers. It also offers an optional compliance mechanism for alternatively-fueled vehicles, and imposes less stringent requirements for small and intermediate volume manufacturers.

The GHG regulations are technology-forcing provisions designed to reduce emissions from new motor vehicles. Through amendments to the CAA, Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations. Policy-makers have used the regulatory process to prompt automakers to develop and employ new, state-of-the-art technologies, more often than not over the industry’s objections. The introduction of catalytic converters in the 1970s is just one example. In each case the industry responded with technological advancements designed to meet the challenges

On this issue, the automotive industry bears the burden of proving the regulations are beyond their ability to meet. There is no question that the GHG regulations present great challenges to automakers. Likewise, President Bush’s plans for a dramatic increase in CAFE standards by as much as four percent per annum, if adopted, provide substantial challenges to the industry.

At the same time, two factors suggest the industry can meet these challenges. First, EPA clearly has the authority and flexibility to address lead time concerns in the waiver process. Second, automakers describe intensive efforts to develop and utilize new technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. American automakers are in the vanguard of utilizing hybrid technology to dramatically improve fuel economy. Clean diesel technology is being offered in a growing number of vehicles. Dramatic improvements to powertrain technologies are under study and may be available in the not-too-distant future. Alternative fuels such as ethanol provide another strategy for reducing GHG emissions. The manufacturers have become fully engaged in developing these technologies to address emissions concerns, and those efforts are front-and-center in the public record. History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges.

In light of the public statements of industry representatives, history of compliance with previous technological challenges, and the state of the record, the Court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Vermont and California’s GHG regulations.

—Judge Sessions

A similar suit is still awaiting resolution in US District Court in California. (Earlier post.) The US EPA has yet to rule on granting California—and by extension, the other states adopting California standards—the waiver to proceed with implementing the GHG rules.






Howay the judge! This statement says it all "History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges." Translation... "Get off your lazy arses and make it happen. The pissing and moaning is getting old."


What a win!, but the battle is not up, lets see if the EPA lets California do it.


There is a long way to go before victory unfortunately. I suspect the EPA will either refuse California or bills in congress may outlaw it in anycase. There are very powerful forces trying to maintain the status quo.


"automakers describe intensive efforts to develop and utilize new technologies to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions."

I find it highly amusing that the recent spate of concept car introductions would actually be a factor in the judge ruling against the automobile companies.


With all the dems in congress I don't think they would outlaw this and be made to look anti-environmental. As for the EPA that's in Bush's pocket.



If memory serves, this law was signed in 2004. It's taken a few years for it to work through the courts, and in the mean time we have growth in the HEV market, growing interest in PHEVs, DiesOtto and HCCI ICEs in testing. It makes me think that they knew they didn't have a case anyway, and that they were just trying to buy R&D time.

Stan Peterson

The Automakers will endeavor to comply, with the legal jackasses. When they don't reach the levels mandated, by the true believers, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The True Believers will then back down and extend the time to compliance, if history is any guide.

Of course a few nut cases will write a book and movie blaming the automakers and wondering once again about conspiracies. The Engineers will be pilloried for not whipping up the desired answers on the schedule some knot head desires. They will write something along the lines of "Who Killed the EV1". No one will ever ask the question of GM "Who built the EV1 ?" and "Why waste your time and money"? When no one else, neither Toyota nor Honda nor Ford nor anyone else in the entire auto making world did?

Especially, when the technology just didn't exist, using lead acid voltaic piles, to do the job then; or for these new mandates, likely now...

Lou Grinzo

Stan: Next time, please try to spice up your post with some inflammatory language and name calling. I'm sure it will help persuade people to adopt your point of view.

As for the matter at hand, I have little sympathy for the US car makers based on their actions to date. They have a very long history of wailing about how every regulation will be the end of their industry, etc., and then completely missing the boat on smaller cars and hybrid technology.

I'm an American, and I desperately want the US car companies to succeed. Even more than that, I want them to give Honda, Toyota, Nissan et al. all they can handle in terms of design, efficiency, reliability, overall quality, etc. The whole world needs as many first-rate companies building outstanding vehicles as possible, and it's one of the most obvious ways in which true competition will benefit everyone.


I could chop off both my legs and this stil wouldnt be afordible.


Well say goodbye to the dem party as that just killed the uaw and a gazzillion politiocal bucks a year....

There is no way the us car makers can keep the uaw and spend this kind of money and the us people have spoken on wich we plan to spend it on... US.

I don't want to encourage this posting to go too political but I must say removing the unions from power started with Ronnie Regan vs the Air Controllers and substituting 401Ks for pensions. The current systems have worked for some time to weaken the unions. And, both parties have proven how little they care; it's a shame.

Rafael Seidl

Nothing will go into effect before Jan 20, 2009. Sometime after that, the next POTUS may decide to tighten federal fuel economy (= CO2 emissions) standards sufficiently to render California's legal foray a moot point. That may not be a bad thing, as there's little advantage in balkanizing the US auto market even further.

Harvey D

Can you imaging a 'democratic' country where a federal agency (like EPA) would even try to stop member States from introducing measure to reduce GHG?


Alex Kovnat

I am against individual states imposing their own fuel economy requirements.

If states start imposing their own fuel economy requirements, why stop there? Suppose a group of really far-out left wing fanatics were to take over a particular state. Given the precedent which has been set regarding fuel economy, what's to stop that particular state from demanding minimum American-content laws, which would require cars sold in that state to be built in the US? Would this be in the best interests of society?

Or, why not impose individual state laws requiring a minimum of parts content to be made by small businesses owned by women or minorities?

I can understand California having its own rules regarding smog, because of the problem posed by the Los Angeles valley area. But regarding the matter of global warming, safety, women and minorities, et cetera, its enough for the federal government to squeeze automakers harder and harder on such issues. We don't need far-out nuts accomplishing through state legislatures what they can't accomplish via the federal rulemaking process.

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