Posted on Dec 21, 2007

In a new defeat for automakers, a federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the state has the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks. It's the second federal ruling giving states that authority this year.

Greenhouse gases are blamed for global warming, and the main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO). Because the only way to reduce CO output is to burn less fuel, automakers see greenhouse-gas rules as barely camouflaged fuel-economy regulations. Only the federal government has the authority to set fuel-economy standards.

"We will study the decision and consider the options, including an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court," said the spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The alliance is the industry's main trade organization.

In August, a federal judge in Vermont made a ruling similar to that in California. The alliance is appealing the ruling.

Even if automakers lose in court, California and other states that adopt identical regulations cannot enforce them unless the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants permission to vary from federal regulations.

In a case involving Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that greenhouse-gas emissions are, in fact, pollutants subject to federal regulation. They have not been considered toxic emissions.

Environmental groups cheered the California ruling. "It's time for the automakers to bench their lawyers and put their engineers to work," said Patricia Monahan at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nearly every automaker, via the alliance and a smaller trade group for import brands, is battling state limits on greenhouse gases.

Car companies worry about having to meet differing state regulations and they say that there is no affordable technology able to meet California-style standards.

Territo said California's greenhouse-gas limits would require cars and the smallest trucks to average 43.7 miles per gallon by 2016 and other trucks to average 26.9 mpg.

That's stricter and quicker than required by the energy bill being debated in Congress. It would boost fuel economy to an overall 35 mpg by 2020 and reduce CO emissions by 30%.

Read More About California Wins Rights to Regulate Vehicles' Emissions...