updated 5/15/2007 9:05:32 AM ET 2007-05-15T13:05:32

Lawyers for 11 states and several environmental groups told a federal appeals court Monday that the Bush administration failed to consider global warming when setting new gas mileage rules.

The plaintiffs, led by California's attorney general, told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that federal regulators ignored the effects of carbon dioxide emissions when calculating fuel economy standards for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The new mileage standards, announced in March 2006, require an increase in the average fuel economy for all passenger trucks sold in the United States from 22.2 miles per gallon to 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010.

Filed in November, the suit seeks to force the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recalculate its mileage standards from scratch, with carbon dioxide emissions taken into account as a major factor in the agency's analysis.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Attorney General Jerry Brown called the March revisions "pathetic" and said it "has the hand of lobbying, not the mind of science."

Lawyers for the traffic safety administration, which sets the mileage standards, called the cost of greenhouse emissions from vehicles "unquantifiable" and said prioritizing their reduction went beyond the agency's legal mandate.

"Congress directed the agency to balance the ultimate goal of increased fuel economy against the need to preserve economic stability and consumer choice," Bush administration lawyers wrote in a brief responding to the lawsuit.

Federal law does not allow the agency to "disregard those considerations in favor of a full-bore effort to combat the global concerns raised by the emission of carbon dioxide by vehicles," the lawyers wrote.

Monday's arguments before the 9th Circuit came the same day President Bush ordered federal agencies to find a way to begin regulating vehicle emissions by the time he leaves office.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration in another case by declaring that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases qualify as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Supreme Court's decision means transportation officials also must assess the environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions in whatever new standards they set, California Deputy Attorney General Susan Fiering said.

"If we can improve fuel economy for passenger cars and light trucks, it will have a nontrivial impact on greenhouse gasses," Fiering said.

But the range of estimates for the monetary impact of greenhouse emissions were "too imprecise and uncertain" to assign them a specific value when creating the new mileage standards, said Justice Department lawyer Thomas Byron, who represented the traffic agency in court.

Along with California, plaintiffs in the suit include Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York City, the District of Columbia and several environmental groups.

The Department of Transportation estimates the new mileage standards would save the U.S. about 10.7 billion gallons of gasoline.

The case is California v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 06-72317.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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