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Washington Watch
Finally, Someone Agrees With BWC Regarding Auto Emissions: It's Not Just About Global Warming, It's About Pollution

California Wants Auto Makers to Control Emissions Because Business Doesn't Have the Right to Pollute

Unfortunately, Legal Recourse May Be Limited In the Absence of Legislation

Arguing that the State of California is interfering with foreign policy and national regulation, major automakers have asked a federal judge to dismiss the state's lawsuit alleging that auto emissions are a public nuisance. The automakers argue further that the state is seeking to sanction them for selling a state-approved product.

In papers filed last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, six manufacturers said the suit has no basis in state or federal law and could cause "incalculable damage (to) the nation's carefully regulated transportation industry and the national economy."

Hmmm..”carefully regulated”?

In September, California filed suit against General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and the North American outlets of Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

It alleged that emissions from their vehicles were a significant cause of climate change and were contributing to major losses in the state's economy and resources, ranging from a decline in the Sierra snowpack to increased air pollution and wildfire hazards.

This is where the state has taken a strong first step. The legal action is linked to global warming, but the suit seeks to label the emissions a public nuisance - that is, something that interferes with public health and safety - and to collect millions of dollars in compensation for the state. Better World Club believes this is critical. What if it were proven tomorrow that man had little influence on global warming? Would this give automakers the right to pollute?

Of course not. There is no right to polluteand the marketplace doesn’t impose the appropriate costs on polluters. Business does not have the right to use our skies and waterways as free public toilets. Government needs to regulate pollution and provide economic incentives for business not to pollute--regardless of its impact on any one issue like global warming. (If pollution is proven to be good for you, we will reconsider.)

As you remember from earlier Better World Club articles, California is very active in greenhouse gas litigation. California is the plaintiff in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Bush administration's refusal to regulate gases emitted by motor vehicles that most scientists agree contribute to global warming. In another related case, automakers are trying to overturn a California law, the first of its kind in the nation that would require them to limit emissions of those so-called greenhouse gases, starting with 2009 models.

Still, the prospect for this suit is not strong. The dismissal by a federal judge in New York of a similar suit against energy companies by eight states, including California, is on appeal.

The manufacturers argued in the papers filed Friday that regulation of the causes of global warming was a political question that the federal government and its agencies are constitutionally obligated to address, not the courts. They argued that the emission levels challenged in Lockyer's suit had been approved by federal agencies and were beyond the courts' power.

The issue also involves sensitive matters of foreign policy, the automakers argued in their brief, citing President Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol because of its mandatory curbs on emissions and his continuing discussions with other nations.

"This is a policy determination of the highest order that is properly reserved for the political branches of the federal government," the companies said.
The CA Attorney General’s office has disputed the automakers' argument that his suit interferes with national regulations.

"There are no laws, there are no regulations, to follow," Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for CA AG Bill Lockyer, said in a recent statement. "The federal government refused to adopt any laws regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and when we adopted rules in California, the companies took us to court."

Moreover, the companies said, the state "has enthusiastically consented to the sale and use of the automobile," has a fleet of 37,000 vehicles, and maintains an extensive highway network that encourages the same activities attacked in the lawsuit.

"The manufacturer of a motor vehicle is no more guilty of creating a nuisance than the builder of a highway, such as the state of California," attorney Theodore Boutrous wrote in the automakers' brief.