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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Auto Alliance Lawsuit

Air Date: Week of

The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers has filed suit against the state of California, protesting its landmark legislation to curb auto emissions. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on the expected court arguments.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The association that represents nine major automakers – and a group of auto dealers – is asking a federal court in California to overturn that state’s landmark legislation to cut global warming gases by reducing tailpipe emissions. Most experts expected the legal action, although some are puzzled that Ford and Toyota – companies that market themselves as “eco-friendly” – are sticking with the organization that has filed the suit.

Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: Ever since California’s greenhouse gas law was written three years ago, auto makers have fought it on two grounds. One, they say it’s inappropriate for a state to be taking on global warming. And two, that under the Clean Air Act, California air officials should stick to matters more directly related to public health. Fred Webber is president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

WEBBER: It is important to stress that these regulations are not intended to reduce air pollution or any adverse health effects related to air pollution. Controlling greenhouse gas emissions is an energy-related issue and it’s being debated internationally and can be effectively addressed only, in our opinion, on a global basis.

LOBET: The auto makers say California is exceeding its authority. But attorney David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which will be joining the lawsuit on California’s behalf, says the state is within its rights.

DONIGER: This is all about air pollution. The car companies want you to think this is all about fuel economy, but it’s not. It’s about putting clean technology, better engines, better transmissions, other components on cars in order to reduce their emissions of pollutants. And California has the power to do that.

LOBET: The outcome of this court challenge would loom large even if it were only about cars; ten percent of all new car purchases are made in California. But a coalition of businesses and regulators is also watching: air officials from the Northeast, water authorities from California, health workers, ski businesses and electronics firms, who all believe it's time to address climate change even if it has to start at the state level.

Coralie Cooper is with Nescaum, a group of air quality experts from eight northeastern states interested in adopting California’s new rules. She says if California loses, eastern states lose too.

COOPER: The Northeast would not only lose substantial greenhouse gas reductions, but the northeast states would then be required to rely on the federal government to address the greenhouse gas issue. And we have no indication that the government is willing to address this issue.

LOBET: The federal government could also weigh in on the side of the automakers and against the state. But NRDC attorney David Doniger says the administration will have to weigh that option carefully.

DONIGER: Does the Bush administration really want to take on Governor Schwarzenegger?

LOBET: Arguments in the case will be heard in a federal courtroom in Fresno, quite possibly before the same judge who struck down California's zero-emissions vehicle law two years ago. For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC: Tracy Scott Silverman “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn to Be) TRIP TO THE SUN (Windham Hill Records – 1999)]



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