Vermont’s regulatory victory

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 industry’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 California’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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Vermont’s regulatory victory”

  1. “A good faith effort to comply is required by international law. Flaunting international obligations undermines the very system that is Canada’s best hope to forestall dangerous climate change. Citing economic hardship neither is a valid legal excuse nor will strengthen Canada’s case for serious developing country commitments. Acquiring emission reductions through Kyoto’s “Clean Development Mechanism,” however, would be an investment in the all-important goal of bringing developing countries into the regime. “

  2. Nuisance Review

    Judge tosses out lawsuit brought by California against automakers

    Posted at 10:21 AM on 18 Sep 2007

    Automakers gained an edge yesterday in the Big Auto vs. California debate, as a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit against the world’s six largest auto companies brought by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown had claimed that because of the harmful environmental effects of vehicles’ greenhouse-gas emissions, the Big Six were running afoul of California’s public nuisance laws. But U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins ruled that the issue should be legislated, not litigated; that calculating the exact percentage of blame to be pinned on automakers was impossible; and that a ruling in favor of Brown would threaten the Bush administration’s foreign policy position — namely, its opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. State officials may appeal. Meanwhile, the sparring is far from over: A California law that would require automakers to cut emissions awaits both a waiver from the U.S. EPA and the settlement of a lawsuit from automakers.

  3. Calif. sues EPA in bid to force emissions decision

    California sued U.S. EPA in federal court today in an effort to force the agency to decide quickly on the state’s effort to regulate motor vehicles’ greenhouse-gas emissions.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia argues that EPA has “unreasonably delayed” the state’s petition to implement its own regulations and asks the court to compel a decision.

    The lawsuit was filed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the California Air Resources Board. About a dozen states and environmental groups are expected to back the litigation.

    “Despite the mounting dangers of global warming, the EPA has delayed and ignored California’s right to impose stricter environmental standards,” Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. (D) said in a statement. “We have waited two years and the Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. What is the EPA waiting for?”

    California originally planned to file the lawsuit two weeks ago — exactly six months after Schwarzenegger first threatened legal action, but officials decided to postpone action while dealing with the forest fires that tore across Southern California.

    EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has repeatedly said the agency will issue a decision on the waiver by the end of the year but has declined to meet the deadlines imposed by California officials.

    State officials and environmentalists, however, say they are skeptical EPA will meet its own deadline — pointing to the previous delays in meeting the deadline. They say a lawsuit is neccessary to ensure agency action.

    California and a dozen other states are looking to proceed with regulations requiring 30 percent reductions in carbon dioxide emission reductions from new vehicles by 2016 — essentially forcing the automakers to significantly increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. State officials say they need a decision to come down soon to begin implementing the new regulations, which is set to take effect in 2009.

    But regardless of what decision EPA makes, it is certain to spark another round of litigation. Environmentalists have said they will sue the agency if it turns down the waiver request and automakers — who have lobbied federal officials against the waiver — are likewise expected to file suit if the waiver is granted.

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