A federal court trial over whether states have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles got under way Tuesday, with automakers asserting that stricter standards being adopted by states will do little to stem global warming.
"The whole truth, as the evidence will show, is that this regulation ... will not have any meaningful impact on global warming," said Andrew Clubok, an attorney for the automakers.
The trial, which involves a suit filed by the auto industry, centers on rules adopted by California in 2005 and later by Vermont and other states.
The non-jury trial is the first of a series of court fights expected in the case. It is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III.
The states and several environmental groups say the Clean Air Act is the ultimate word on regulating emissions. The Act allowed California to set more stringent emissions rules than the federal government and let other states piggyback on the California rules.
The trial comes in the wake of an April 2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered the federal government to take a new look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions, saying the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by cars.
Automobile manufacturers and dealers say climate change is not fully understood and that new regulations could carry economically significant consequences.
Witness Alan Weverstad, executive director of GM's environment and energy group, used charts that he said showed the problems GM would face in raising average fuel economy standards to 43.7 miles per gallon by 2016.
He said the lead time needed to develop new technologies would render the regulations unachievable and the fuel economy standards "just unbelievably extreme."
Vermont has been joined by the state of New York and five environmental organizations who are in the case as defendant-interveners. Among them: the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Conservation Law Foundation.
In an 80-minute opening statement Tuesday, Clubok said the auto industry would present expert witnesses to demonstrate that the cost of meeting the regulations of California, Vermont and nine other states would be too high and the lead time necessary for car companies to install carbon-reducing technology too short to be feasible.
Assistant Vermont Attorney General Scot Kline said the defendants in the case will put on witnesses rebutting car company claims about costs and lead time.
"The Vermont regulation, by itself, will not stop global warming. But the evidence will show it's a start," said Kline.
Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep, Green Mountain Ford Mercury and Joe Tornabene's GMC of Pownal are plaintiffs in the case, in addition to General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler AG and a pair of auto industry trade groups.