Late Friday, The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers filed an appeal challenging a landmark U.S. District Court decision that had supported Vermont's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
The decision has been seen as an important precedent, because a similar case in California turns on the same argument, and a dozen states are poised to adopt California's carbon dioxide emissions standards if the rule is upheld. The Supreme Court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's right -- and responsibility -- to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant in a separate but related -- and equally foundational -- decision. The EPA must approve California's emissions rule before it, or any other state, can put the rule into effect.
First passed in 2004, the rule has gained repeated support from the court, but the protracted court battles now make enforcing the rule on the 2009 model year increasingly unlikely. Because of the strange math of car-making, automakers are already developing 2009 models that will be sold early in 2008.
But the court appeal doesn't argue that adhering to the rule is impossible, based on the time frame. It argues that states have no authority to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles -- mainly because meeting the standards requires a significant boost in fuel economy, and the federal Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over setting fuel economy standards.
"Evidence provided during the trial demonstrates that the federal law is very explicit: states are pre-empted from adopting fuel economy laws; and complex issues such as greenhouse gas emissions must be dealt with comprehensively on the national level," Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the automakers alliance, said in a statement on the organization's Web site. "Our evidence clearly demonstrated that Vermont's regulation, which is based on California's regulation, is tantamount to a fuel economy standard. At trial, it was undisputed that improving fuel economy is the only way to meet these requirements."
The court decided against the automakers once. A higher court will hear this appeal.
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