Vermont Court Gives the 'Green Light' to California's Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for New Automobiles

by Morrison & Foerster LLP
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The eye of the climate change storm is descending upon the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In April, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, holding that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and the U.S. EPA has the authority to regulate the emission of those gases. On Wednesday, September 12, 2007, another important court decision on climate change was issued—this time by the United States District Court for the District of Vermont.

The Burlington, Vermont, court decided in Green Mountain Chrysler v. Crombie that California’s greenhouse

gas emission standards for new automobiles (standards that were subsequently adopted by Vermont) are not preempted by federal fuel efficiency laws. The case was brought by automobile manufacturers arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”). Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. To avoid dueling standards in various states or regions in the country, EPCA also contains an express preemption clause that prohibits any state or local entity from adopting or enforcing “any law or regulation relating to fuel economy standards.” (Section 509(a) of EPCA.) The automobile manufacturers contended that restricting

greenhouse gas emissions necessarily amounts to a regulation that requires increased fuel economy.

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