Thursday, April 12, 2007

Automakers battle states' jurisdiction

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Automakers battle states' jurisdiction
GM exec says state carbon reductions affect fuel economy, which is solely federal territory.
David Gram / Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A General Motors Corp. executive told a federal judge Tuesday that vehicle carbon emission reductions ordered by California and 10 other states would require average fuel economy standards for cars and the lightest category of trucks of 43.7 miles per gallon.

"The standards we've had to make changes to in the past are incremental," said Alan Weverstad, executive director of GM's environment and energy unit. Lowering carbon emissions as much as the states want will involve "fuel economy requirements that are just unbelievably extreme," he said.

The testimony came as a federal trial got under way in which automakers are trying to block states from adopting new standards aimed at lowering emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas tied to climate change.

The companies argue that reducing carbon requires improving fuel economy, since carbon emissions are proportional to the amount of gasoline burned. And they say fuel economy, under a 1975 federal law, is solely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The states argue that they can regulate carbon emissions as a tailpipe pollutant under another federal law, the Clean Air Act.

The Vermont case is first in a series expected to be heard countrywide as the auto industry tries to knock down carbon limits. It is also the first since the Supreme Court ruled last week that carbon emissions can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Only the Vermont rules are at issue in the case before U.S. District Judge William Sessions III. But Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said whatever its outcome, the case is seen as a bellwether for others around the country.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

Weverstad said under questioning that GM had conducted an engineering study called a "maximum technology scenario," in which it hypothetically said 89 percent of the cars it sells in the next nine years and 81 percent of the trucks would be converted to gas-electric hybrids.

Even with such an approach, GM still could not meet the new carbon standards and would waste $25 billion or more on the effort, he said.

Matthew Pawa, a lawyer for the environmental groups, sought through questioning to point out that the industry predicted technological and economic calamity when the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, when the law requiring fuel economy standards passed five years later and when other regulations were taking effect.

At a noontime news conference two environmental groups sought to expand on that point.

"This is the same old saw of pessimism that we've heard from the auto industry time and again," said Christopher Kilian, director of the Conservation Law Foundation's Vermont office.

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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