Judge to hear ground-breaking pollution case

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(Host) Later this month, a federal judge will hear a ground-breaking case on whether Vermont can use federal law to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from cars.

The auto industry is challenging new clean air regulations around the country. The Vermont case is the first that’s scheduled for trial.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The federal Clean Air Act allows states to follow California’s lead in setting tough pollution standards from cars.

So Vermont and other northeastern states have done just that. The new rules take aim at carbon dioxide, the main pollutant blamed for global warming.

(Kilian) “It’s really the only significant effort going on nationally to address greenhouse gas pollution from cars.”

(Dillon) Chris Kilian is the Vermont director of the Conservation Law Foundation. The environmental group has intervened in the case to help the state defend the new rules.

(Kilian) “The auto industry can meet these regulations. They’ve agreed to similar standards in Canada and other areas. And we’re urging them to put their engineers on innovation and not maintain such a strong focus on litigation.”

(Dillon) Transportation accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The state’s new clean air rules are supposed to take effect in 2008. They would ratchet down the C02 pollution from cars through 2015.

But the auto industry says the state is actually trying to control fuel economy which it says only the federal government is allowed to do.

(Territo) “We believe that California in this legislation, and Vermont by adopting it, are attempting to set their own fuel economy standards and that’s what we object to.”

(Dillon) Charles Territo is communications director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He says it’s not technically feasible to meet the new rules. The association has challenged the regulations in federal court in Burlington.

(Territo) “California has the authority to regulate pollutants as defined by the Clean Air Act. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant under the clean air act, but it is a by-product of combustion. And the only way to decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled or reduce the amount of fuel that’s used.”

(Dillon) The state of Vermont and the environmental groups disagree. They say the state wants to regulate pollution, not fuel economy. Chris Kilian from the Conservation Law Foundation:

(Kilian) “Vermont and California and the other states are acting under the Clean Air Act, and because of that a claim that another federal law can pre-empt the Clean Air Act is a bit of a stretch.”

(Dillon) That’s one of the issues before U.S. District Judge William Sessions.

The case is scheduled for trial in Burlington on March 22nd.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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