• Sep 13, 2007
General Motors and the former DaimlerChrysler have been handed a disappointment in a Boston district court. At issue was Vermont's adoption of California's carbon dioxide standard, which requires cars and light trucks to reduce their emissions of the greenhouse gas by 30 percent. GM and DCX brought suit against the state of Vermont, claiming that Federal law was being usurped by states demanding their own emissions standards. Furthermore, the automakers say they couldn't meet the standard, and will have to pull out of Vermont as a result.
Judge William Sessions didn't buy the argument of GM and DaimlerChrysler, and instead upheld the Vermont law. While the standards are tighter than the Federal regulations, Sessions was not convinced that they pre-empt the nationwide requirements. It does appear like a thorny States Rights question, and if more states than the current dozen or so adopt California emissions guidelines, it will continue to cause consternation. It does make the federal regs look useless when states are passing requirements that are more rigorous. It also creates extra cost for automakers, as they've either got to make all of their cars compliant, or sell "Federal" and "California" versions of the same car. The decision will be appealed by the automakers, and we expect this issue to have legs – this is not the last we'll hear of this debate.

[Source: Automotive News – sub req.]


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  • 46 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      "It does make the federal regs look useless when states are passing requirements that are more rigorous."

      Kind of a stupid thing to say Dan. The nation is made up of states joined together by a union. States have rights as individual governments and they agree to meet the minimum standards of law set by the federal government by being a member of the union called The United States of America.

      If a state wants to make its own laws it has every right to. It can meet or exceed the laws set by the federal government or it can choose to not abide by federal law and face penalties (like less federal funding) or leave the union. Simple as that.

      If this was a case of Vermont wanting to impose a tougher law requiring more safety measures on big rigs than federal gov't mandates they would be heroes. On AutoBlog they are bums, what gives?

      Screw the auto companies. If they want to make sales in a particular market either meet that markets requirements or leave the market. Boo hoo GM...
        • 7 Years Ago
        @Dan: Thanks for replying. That was an excellent, well-though, well-written response.

        Due to my busy work day and the inappropriate medium for a conversation on the topic, I'll only say that we (Americans) can't rely on capitalism for creating public policy in most cases (like the environment and health care). Since the ROI of environmentalism can't be measured by companies like GM, they don't care. Sometimes the government needs to give markets a kick in the a$$ to get things moving, in this case Vermont decided to put on a bigger boot than Uncle Sam, which is their right, perfectly legal and a cornerstone of our political system.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hi Mike, it was a bit of an observation on my part, not bemoaning the decision. Harrity laid out the crux of the biscuit more eloquently than I (want a job? ;) ) - California emissions can be seen as a roundabout mileage standard. The federal court didn't see it that way, however, so it's back to the drawing board for the companies suing.

        I'm all for clean air - even if it makes my cars more expensive. As we're seeing, there's no one magic bullet other than *not driving*. Good luck with that, and I know that my car guy member card is at risk of being torn up for saying that. It's such a bottom-up approach to go after cars so aggressively, yet give large industry a virtual pass.

        Yes, cleaning up cars is desireable, and we should continue to explore alternative fuels, propulsion technology, manufacturing, all of it. BUT - something really needs to be done about our power consumption as a nation, the way we generate said power, as well as industries emitting pollutants as part of their process. Some things will never be totally clean, that's true, but we could do better than coal power plants if we tried, and we are trying.

        Overall, lifestyle changes are the only ways to make any type of pollution reduction and fuel consumption improvements stick. We all drive our cars (alone) to big offices in the cities, to do work we could have done with a laptop and a high speed connection at our homes - offering more incentive for telecommuting would net a drop in emissions and fuel consumption pretty quickly. It would also save wear and tear on infrastructure. It's not practical for everyone (regardless of my blanket statement - NOT everyone commutes to an office).

        I didn't mean to come off as slanted, is what i'm trying to say. Cars are not the sole answer to turning around an energy crunch or pollution crisis, however, and I'm more excited to see multidisciplinary approaches. It's the same as losing weight - you MUST change your lifestyle for your efforts to have a lasting effect.

        As for semis - blame Reagan for loosening up the weight restrictions, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Public opinion debates in Vermont range between very strict standards and banning cars altogether. The California standards represent a very watered-down version of what the least anti-car people in the state want. California standards are a major compromise and a workable solution in a state where most people would rather have much stricter standards than California.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The people writing articles about CARB should look into how the federal government - especially the judicial branch views CARB. Essentially, the national rule has been and will continue to be: states can choose to follow CARB or the federal guidelines. Why? CARB arrived on the scene way before the US Government took any action on air quality. CARB essentially was grandfathered into the system. Originally the government had a hard time getting any states to follow air quality controls.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Harrity seems to be the only comment here that understands what these laws would mean. To blithely suggest that one industry should shoulder billions of dollars in development costs is unresponsible. We are not talking about little widgets here, but expensive, complex machines that take years and billions of dollars to engineer. The domestic auto industry is allready hemorrhaging jobs and money. You can tut-tut all you want about how "they deserve it", but is it really in America's interest for Ford and GM to go bankrupt? Is it really desireable to see billions of dollars in profits made by Japanese auto companies (who simply do not have the same legacy costs as the 100 year old domestic auto industry) shipped of to support their healthcare and retirements? These are national problems that need to be addressed nationally. Attacking one industry is only going to hurt us all in the end.
        • 7 Years Ago
        In the era of free trade agreements and increased reliance on international business, changing laws just so a domestic company can keep operating inefficiently, smacks of a huge backward step. You either want cheap prices or domestic jobs, you can't really have both.

        And anyway, why should the environment have to suffer if a company can't keep up with the pace required to continuously improve their products.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Harity and Allen seem to not care about global warming, but most educated people are coming around. There are plenty of cheap ways manufactures can cut emissions, see the article on this site about the volvo c30 with a few cheap tweaks.

      Allen the domestic auto makers are sucking wind because they are not making a product people want to buy. Case in point I shopped for a commuter car with good gas mpg, and my choice from ford is a 1999 POS? Maybe by 2011 they will have some decent small cars.
        • 7 Years Ago
        My sister in law with a fusion in mixed driving gets 22 MPG, on the highway she is lucky to get the claimed 28. I agree with you on hybrids not being ideal, personally I favor just making the ICE much more efficient until the technology for batteries improves.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Most educated people..."

        Now, make a snazzy chart with a line graph! You can't argue with a line graph!
        • 7 Years Ago
        What I suggested, is that these are national problems that need a national solution. What pains me about these discussions are knee-jerk, uninformed "opinions". If you want a good commuter car that gets over 30mpg, shop the Ford Fusion. It's based on a Mazda, if that makes you feel better. Ford also builds a small hybrid SUV, the Escape. FYI: Volvo is owned by Ford.
        The auto industry is allready spending billions trying to catch up. My point is, I care a lot about the environment, but I also care greatly about addressing the issue in a way that spreads the cost and responsibility. The more I read about the issues involved in alternative power supplies (the cost of battery development, the true energy cost of plug-in electric cars, the true energy cost of ethanol), the more surprised I am at the level disagreement there is among experts. Haphazardly applying standards is not going to solve anything.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Under the new, more realistic EPA standards, the best you can do in a Fusion is 20/29 MPG.

        Alternatively, a brand-neutral consumer could buy an automatic Honda Civic for similar (or less) money and average 25/36 MPG.

        Development costs are expensive, but so is digging in your heels and launching high-profile bluffing campaigns to try to get a break from the government. Expensive, not only financially, but from a brand equity standpoint. They look like sore losers; consumers want to be associated with "winners."

        It's the same kind of posturing GM issued over CAFE standards, claiming (ridiculously) that higher MPG standards would force them to reconsider their shift towards appealing RWD vehicles. Threatening to punish the market with inferior product, when inferior product is their problem in the first place, is a horrible waste of image and resources.
      • 7 Years Ago
      But what about big trucks, off road equipment and cleaner fuel for those older motors? E10 & E85, B5 winter & B20+ summer grade. What is vermont doing to improve all motors? What about industry pollution?
      • 7 Years Ago
      the feds should stop all highway funds to states with their own emisssion rules. The Feds job is difficult enough and it is a redundancy and a refuge for eco dopes
      • 7 Years Ago
      I guess I think of the federal regulation as a base standard while the other 12 states have a more stringent standard that addresses their needs. An analogy would be the federal minimum wage versus state mandated (always higher $$) min. wages. You are always going to have trailblazer states and then those that follow them. It takes the trailblazers states to introduce the ideas that the follower states may decide are good idea one day.
        • 7 Years Ago
        gsolman6, legally, I think this is different than the minimum wage issue. The minimum wage issue is completely localized within one state, while these rules affecting cars affect products build in other states. I'm not a lawyer (and regardless of rights or wrongs of environmentalism) but it seems to me that this decision is wrong and clearly is in opposition to the interstate commerce clause of the constitution granting supremacy to the federal government in these cases. It would be another thing if the Vermont law only applied to cars build within Vermont, but that is obviously not the case.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It is exactly like minimum wage. Those laws apply to all, not just companies that are based in that state. Other companies have to make adjustments to fit in that market. The Interstate Commerce law is made so that one state doesn't create laws that favor it's products over those of other states. Vermont has no stake in this as they do not have automobile factories or HQs in their states. This is totally legal for a state to do and Bush and the EPA are even pushing for states to do their own pollution policing as they don't want to get involved.
      • 7 Years Ago
      One country=one set of rules. At least now I know where Dumb and Dumber live !!
        • 7 Years Ago
        States' "rights" died with the Civil War. The concept of state governments is an anachronism that needs to die yesterday.

        Anyway, it's none of the government's business, federal or state, for them to interfere in private enterprise.
        • 7 Years Ago
        They're interfering in private enterprise. They are setting environmental guidelines to keep the state at a reasonable pollution level (which is their job). They aren't telling a business what cars they can and can't produce, they are just telling them to meet a standard that all businesses have to meet. Seems like a level playing field to me.

        If the business can't compete, get the f*ck out of Vermont then.
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, that is not the case. That is why we are called UNITED STATES. States have the right to do things on their own. Also, do you really think that States should have waited for 30 MORE years untill federal government acted?

        Had industry accepted tiny increases in 90's they would not be here now.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think the main point is being missed here. As I understand it, this is not about the emissions standards that have been in place for years (and yes, California and some other states do have some stricter standards in some cases). Those emissions standards deal with actual exhaust pollutants, i.e. carbon MONoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and unburned hydrocarbons (UHC). These are the baddies, and they are handled quite effectively by the catalytic converter, a true miracle of engineering.

      The new b.s. "standard" that California is trying to enforce, and Vermont has decided to try to enforce as well, deals with carbon DIoxide (CO2) because of the global warming hogwash that is the current rage. This is what this lawsuit is dealing with, I believe. The problem is that CO2 is tied directly to fuel economy, as it is produced in "perfect" hydrocarbon combustion. So, to reduce CO2, the car must burn less fuel (or switch to some alternative fuel). So in effect, saying that CO2 emissions must drop by x% really means that the vehicle must get some higher level of fuel economy. The problem with that is that current law states that only the feds can set fuel economy standards (the idiotic "CAFE" requirements). States do have the ability under current law to set their own air quality standards, as the pollutants mentioned above can lead to localized smog and other undesirable, but REAL, effects.

      California is trying to regulate CO2 emissions now, which in effect is regulating fuel economy. Current law says they are not allowed to do that, and that is the case the automakers are trying to make in court. Even if exhaust CO2 DOES cause or aid global warming, it would be a tough sell to say that the CO2 emitted in California is somehow warming just California. In other words, California is trying to treat CO2 as a pollutant that affects their air quality. Right...

      Of course, never mind that humans breathe out CO2 with every breath... *sigh* (oops, I just polluted a little there, sorry)
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Of course, never mind that humans breathe out CO2 with every breath... *sigh* (oops, I just polluted a little there, sorry)"

        It should be clear to any reasonable person, regardless of their position on global warming, that the above argument is illogical. Humans also emit feces. Does that mean feces are non-polluting?

        Another illogical argument used by global warming non-believers is that CO2 occurs naturally. Well, so does a whole host of chemicals, bacteria and viruses that are injurious to human health. Heck, feces is a natural product of animal digestion.

        Regardless of which side I come down on an issue, I get the suspicion that people who argue illogically or who dogmatically dismiss the opposing position as simply absurd, ridiculous, nonsense, or "hogwash" are skipping on quicksand.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Intelligent.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I suspect the cows in Vermont contribute as much global warming gas as the cars in Vermont do. Is anything being done to regulate these emmissions?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Are you saying we can't have beef?

        I would rather walk to work than go without a nice medium rare steak...
        • 7 Years Ago
        You suspect wrong. Where on earth did this farce begin?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I agree. It costs 0$ in dev costs to get the cars to meet regs since they're already being built for the CA market. This is a good example of the states picking up the slack where the federal gov't failed. Way to go Vermont!
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