updated 3/6/2007 8:17:44 PM ET 2007-03-07T01:17:44

The world’s six largest automakers on Tuesday asked a judge to toss out a novel federal lawsuit filed by California that seeks untold millions for future damage caused to the state by global warming.

In its lawsuit filed in September, California blamed the auto industry for millions of dollars it expects to spend on repairing damage from global-warming induced floods and other natural disasters. For instance, warmer winters mean earlier Sierra Nevada snow melts, which could lead to floods in the Central Valley.

The automakers’ attorney Ted Boutrous argued that global warming is an international issue that needs to be addressed jointly by the worlds’ politicians. Boutrous said it is impossible for California to show precisely what damage automakers have done to the state when there are myriad sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

“This isn’t just the auto industry,” Boutrous told U.S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins. “The auto industry is just a small fraction of the participants.”

Jenkins, too, appeared concerned with how a court could decide a damage award that would accurately reflect what — if any — damages global warming had solely on California while also pinpointing the auto industry’s exact liability.

An international scientific consortium last month released an authoritative report in Paris that said global warming is “very likely” caused by man and that climate change will continue for centuries even if heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide are reduced.

“Nobody seems to disagree anymore that global warming is a fact,” Jenkins said. But he said he wondered how to determine at what point carbon dioxide emissions begin to actually cause damage and what is the industry’s responsibility to reverse the rise. Jenkins also said he needed to weigh the economic value of the auto industry against any alleged damages it may cause.

“There has to be some substantial interference to the right of the public,” Jenkins said.

The judge was also concerned that the lawsuit could interfere with U.S. foreign-policy efforts and its abilities to negotiate treaties addressing global warming.

The Bush administration has consistently opposed any international treaty — including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — that would impose cuts on greenhouse gases.

Deputy Attorney General Ken Alex said the state’s lawsuit was akin to neighbors suing a mining operation for nuisance because of the noise and pollution the operation causes.

“This case is about harm to the state,” Alax said. “Nothing in this case will affect the United States’ ability to negotiate — or not negotiate — a treaty.”

Jenkins didn’t rule Tuesday.

The lawsuit was originally filed in September by former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who was elected Treasurer in November.

Newly elected Attorney General Jerry Brown said in December he would continue to pursue the lawsuit.

The state sued Chrysler Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and the U.S. subsidiaries of Japan’s biggest manufacturers, Honda North America, Nissan North America and Toyota Motor North America.

Automakers also are challenging a 2002 California law that requires reductions in emissions from cars and light trucks. The auto industry says only the federal government can make such a demand.

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