Auto Makers Fight California Effort to Regulate Vehicle Emissions

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - An automobile trade association has joined auto dealers in challenging California's attempt to regulate the fuel economy of passenger vehicles.

Passed in 2002, Assembly Bill 1493 directed the California Air Resources Board to adopt rules requiring auto makers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars and light trucks. Those gas-reduction requirements will take effect, beginning in 2009.

Environmental groups applaud the effort, but the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has outlined a number of objections.

"This regulation is inconsistent with federal law, as well as fundamental principles for sound regulation of motor vehicles," said Fred Webber, president & CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "It leaves us with no alternative but to join [California automobile] dealers in a legal challenge on behalf of automakers, dealers and consumers," Webber said.

The Alliance listed five principles that are guiding its legal challenge.

First, federal law gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sole authority to set uniform, national fuel economy standards.

The Alliance says only a national fuel-economy standard makes sense. "Consumers would suffer higher prices and severely restricted choice of vehicles if each state were deciding for itself which new vehicles ought to be produced and sold," the Alliance said in a press release.

Second, the Alliance said fuel economy should improve -- "but it must be balanced with safety, jobs and other concerns." The Alliance said it "continues to work constructively with NHTSA to improve fleet fuel economy." It notes that consumers nowadays may choose from more than 30 vehicle models that get more than 30 miles a gallon.

Third, the Alliance said that under California's greenhouse gas law, all Californians purchasing new vehicles would pay significantly more than consumers in other states. And consumers would see fewer models on sales lots -- as some vehicles would become "rare or extinct" in the state.

Fourth, the Alliance argues that all regulations should provide social benefits worth their costs. But it estimates that California's new fuel economy regulation would reduce greenhouse gases only by a tenth of one percent globally. "Californians would see no health benefits from this regulation" since it address only carbon dioxide, the Alliance said.

And finally, the Alliance said advanced technology should be driven by consumer demand, not government regulation.

"Automakers are investing billions of dollars to develop and introduce new fuel-efficient automobiles with cutting-edge technologies like cylinder deactivation, hybrid-electric power trains, clean diesel, continuously variable transmissions, hydrogen internal combustion engines, and fuel cells."

It said consumer tax incentives would help spur sales of such vehicles.

"The government should not pick winners and losers, but rather let consumers and the marketplace choose which technologies make sense for them," the Alliance said in its press release.

Environmentalists 'disappointed'

A spokesman for the Sierra Club called it disappointing but not surprising that automakers and dealers are "suing to prevent California from protecting its citizens from the effects of global warming."

These are the same automakers that are buying ads touting their environmental commitments, said Dan Becker, Washington director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming Program. "If these automakers are so committed to reducing global warming emissions, why are they suing to prevent California from doing just that?" Becker asked.

Becker noted that General Motors has run ads promoting its diesel-electric "magic bus." Additionally, Ford has said it will cut 45 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions from all its cars by 2030. And Toyota President Fujio Cho has said, "If automakers don't reduce smog-forming emissions, greenhouse gases, and the need for petroleum, I believe we won't be in business."

Becker said the California emissions-reduction law is a big step in the right direction -- "because it delivers clean car choices for consumers, and encourages cost-effective, currently available technology to reduce global warming emissions.

"Auto companies should give their lawyers a break and instead put their engineers to work doing what their ads claim -- protecting people from global warming," said Becker.

The Sierra Club says that the "global warming" law has "widespread support" from Californians, a majority of the California legislature, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It also said seven other U.S. states and Canada are in various stages of adopting similar laws.

The automakers and dealers filed their lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Fresno, California.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a trade association of nine car and light truck manufacturers including BMW Group, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota and Volkswagen. It says that one out of every 10 jobs in the U.S. is dependent on the automotive industry.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.