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.