Automakers Appeal Vermont Emission Standards

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers recently appealed a U.S District Court decision that upheld Vermont's decision to adopt California's strict tailpipe emissions standards. The automakers call it "urgent" since new emission standards will be implemented as early as next year.

The alliance, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler LLC and the Toyota Motor Corp., said that they would appeal the 240-page ruling of Williams Sessions, U.S. district judge.

The toss and turn of the mileage predicament is likened to the pressure exerted on when traveling rough and bumpy roads. "Automakers support increasing fuel economy standards and reducing emissions, and we will continue to do so by offering vehicles that use less gasoline and offering more Alternative Fuel Automobiles that are powered by new energy sources," said David McCurdy, the alliance's CEO.

"However, this case is not about that. This case centers on the critical issue of whether states can regulate a matter - fuel economy - that the law clearly identifies as a federal, national issue. Evidence provided during the trial demonstrates that the federal law is very explicit: states are pre-empted from adopting fuel economy laws; and complex issues such as greenhouse gas emissions must be dealt with comprehensively on the national level," he added.

McCurdy said that the appeal is "urgent as this legislation applies to model year 2009 vehicles, which consumers will start seeing in early 2008 - just a few months from now." On Sept. 12, Sessions rejected the automakers' arguments in a case McCurdy said largely hinged on whether the regulations were too draconian for automakers to comply with.

"The court does not find convincing the claims that consumers will be deprived of their choice of vehicles, or that manufacturers will be forced to restrict or abandon their product lines," Sessions wrote in his ruling. "The court remains unconvinced automakers cannot meet the challenge of Vermont and California's (greenhouse gas) regulations. History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges."

Environment groups are jubilant with the upholding of Vermont's emission standards. "This was another example of Detroit crying wolf," said David Bookbinder, a Sierra Club lawyer who argued the case.

Automakers, meanwhile, said that the decision would dramatically reduce sales, force them to shrink the size of vehicles and power of engines and add gasoline-hybrid engines. It can be recalled that the automakers have been combating a multifront efforts. These efforts are aimed at beating back new regulations to force them to remarkably raise fuel efficiency of their vehicles at a cost of tens of billions of dollars.
The legal challenge in Vermont stems from that state's decision to adopt the tough emissions limits that California approved in 2004, The Detroit News reported. Besides Vermont, ten other states also have adopted California's regulations, which require passenger cars to average 43 miles per gallon by 2016.

In the trial, Alan Weverstad, the executive director of GM's environment and energy team, testified that it could cost GM $25 billion to comply with the state's rules, and by 2016 the company still would be seven mpg short of the mileage requirement. That would force the company to stop selling in Vermont and other states that adopted the 43 mpg standard, he testified.

An expert for the state of Vermont, on the other hand, intimated that the standard would add about $1,500 per vehicle, far less than the automakers estimate of as much as $6,000.

"The great disparity between these two scenarios is the key factual dispute of the trial," Sessions wrote. The automakers and their experts "fail to demonstrate that the regulation is not feasible, given the flawed assumptions and overly conservative selection of technologies documented."