AG sues automakers over vehicle emissions
SACRAMENTO (AP) – California’s attorney general on Wednesday sued the six largest U.S. and Japanese automakers, including GM, Ford and Toyota, for damages related to greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal lawsuit alleges that emissions from their vehicles have harmed Californians’ health, damaged the environment and cost the state millions of dollars to combat their effects.
“It’s part of a strategy to address global warming,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “The goal of this one is to hold these automobile manufacturers accountable for the monies taxpayers are spending to address these harms.”
The lawsuit is the latest effort from California to combat the effects of global warming.
Last month, the state Legislature passed a landmark bill designed to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from industries. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the measure into law by the end of the month.
Two years ago, the state enacted similar requirements for auto emissions, prompting carmakers to file suit in federal court.
Lockyer’s action comes 48 days before the November election. He is termed out of office this year and is running for state treasurer.
“This is the silly season of elections in the fall, and obviously he thinks this will gain him a few marginal votes,” said Sean McAlinden, an economist with the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I don’t think it means anything more than it says. It’s California politics.”
Lockyer said the complaint has nothing to do with election-year politics. His Republican opponent, state Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, names Chrysler Motors Corp., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor North America, Honda North America and Nissan North America.
The automakers responded to Lockyer’s lawsuit by issuing a statement saying they already are building cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers did not respond to the substance of Lockyer’s lawsuit, saying manufacturers would need time to review the complaint.
Lockyer is suing on the theory that greenhouse gases are a “public nuisance” under both California and federal law, an argument similar to one being pursued in a case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Connecticut and seven other states, including California, have sued five power companies to get them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Connecticut lawsuit was dismissed by a district judge who said it attempted to address political questions. In a brief filed in support of the utility companies, the automakers alliance argued that such a suit “opens the door to lawsuits targeting any activity that uses fossil fuel for energy.”
Lockyer’s is the first that seeks monetary damages from the auto industry for greenhouse gas emissions.
“Industries that release the pollution that is causing global warming have to expect there are going to be more suits of this kind until and unless we have effective national legislation to curb global warming,” said David Doniger, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.
The environmental group has joined California in defending the state’s auto emission regulations in a separate lawsuit filed by automakers.
That court case relates to rules adopted in 2004 by the state Air Resources Board. They were designed to cut polluting exhaust from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from sport utility vehicles by 18 percent.
The auto industry challenged the state’s ability to set such regulations shortly after the rules took effect. In that case, automakers argue that California is acting outside its jurisdiction because the only way they can meet the more stringent emission standards is to raise fuel efficiency. Setting fuel-efficiency standards is the exclusive responsibility of the federal government.
The state has countered that automakers can meet the tougher tailpipe standards with better technology.
California is attempting to cut the amount of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. As part of its strategy, auto emissions from cars and light trucks would account for about a third of the reductions.
The emissions from industries that are targeted by the bill Schwarzenegger is expected to sign next week also are a key part of the state’s overall strategy. The Republican governor struck that landmark deal with Democratic leaders in August during the waning days of the legislative session and after weeks of intense negotiations.
Lockyer said he intentionally waited until the Legislature passed that bill before filing his lawsuit against the automakers because he didn’t want to jeopardize its chances.
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