Well known as a progressive place, Vermont seems to have recently struck a notable blow in the fight to develop regulatory structures to address climate change. A heated court case had developed between car manufacturers and the state government about whether the latter could impose tough emission limits on cars and light trucks. William Sessions, a federal judge, found in favour of the state’s right to do so. You can read the entire judgment here: PDF, Google Cache.
Among the arguments brought forward by the auto makers (and rejected by Sessions) were that the regulations were unconstitutional, impossible to meet with existing technology, economically disastrous, ineffective, and anti-consumer. The case also involved a reasonably complex jurisdictional issue regarding California’s special exemptions to set environmental policy more broadly than other states.
There do seem to be a suspicious number of cases where industries have followed this trajectory in relation to new regulations: saying that they are unnecessary, saying they would be financially ruinous, then quietly adapting to them with little fuss once they come into force. The phase-out of CFCs in response to the Montreal Protocol is an excellent example. This trend is explicitly recognized in the ruling:
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 industryâ€™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…
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 Californiaâ€™s GHG regulations.
The fact that Chinese cars have to meet better emission standards than American ones strongly suggests that the objections of industry are bogus. Given the price inelasticity of demand for gasoline (people keep buying about the same amount when the price goes up), regulating fuel efficiency and emissions does seem like an efficient way to reduce GHG emissions in the transport sector.