Auto Manufacturers’ Association Joins Suit Challenging California Greenhouse Gas Law

Published February 1, 2005

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) announced on December 7 that it has joined a lawsuit filed by Central California auto dealers challenging the state’s plan to force significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of new vehicles sold in the state.

In September 2004, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced it will require new vehicles sold in the state in 2010 to emit 22 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) than today’s vehicles. By 2016, new vehicles must emit 30 percent less CO2 than today’s vehicles.

More Stringent than Feds

Federal law establishes corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards that all auto manufacturers must meet. In addition to mandating minimum fuel economy standards, federal law prohibits individual state governments from establishing their own fuel economy standards.

California had state laws restricting air pollution before passage of federal clean air standards, and those laws were grandfathered in when the federal legislation passed. The state argues this gives California the right to pass CO2 legislation, by describing CO2 as a “pollutant” or “contaminant.” Those challenging the new CO2 law contend it is prohibited state-level CAFE legislation disguised as a permissible clean-air law.

The AAM points out that greenhouse gas emissions are directly correlated with fuel economy, and there is no way to meet California’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations other than to impose fuel economy standards more stringent than is required under federal law. The proposed greenhouse gas regulations, AAM points out, have the necessary effect of enacting fuel economy standards in conflict with federal law.

The federal government itself has determined that automobile greenhouse gas emissions are directly tied to fuel efficiency.

“The more fuel your vehicle burns the more greenhouse gases it emits,” noted an advisory issued jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy. EPA’s estimates of a vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions are directly proportional to its gas mileage.

“Federal law is designed to ensure a consistent fuel economy program across the country,” observed Fred Webber, president of AAM, in a December 7 press release. “There’s a better way to improve fuel economy than this regulation, such as providing consumer tax incentives for the purchase of our new advanced technology vehicles.”

“There’s no other way to eliminate carbon dioxide than to make a car combust less fuel,” said AAM spokesperson Eron Shosteck, as reported by the December 8 San Francisco Chronicle. “This is fuel economy. Period. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are synonymous.”

$3,000 Surcharge Per Car

Beyond legal issues, critics assert there are many reasons for California citizens to oppose the new CO2 law.

The law would make cars purchased in California significantly more expensive than they currently are, as even CARB has acknowledged. According to CARB, the new regulation would add more than $1,000 to the average sticker price of every new car and light truck sold in the state.

Moreover, CARB has an incentive, analysts note, to lowball the projected financial impact of the proposed regulation. More likely, observes the Sierra Research group, the proposed regulation will add $3,000 to the average price of cars and light trucks.

No Effect on Temperatures

Critics also note the law is indisputably futile. California automobiles contribute an almost indiscernible amount of CO2 to the Earth’s atmosphere. Reducing emissions will have no discernible effect on the planet’s climate.

“If every automobile in California were eliminated, there would be no identifiable change in temperature or climate in the state,” the December 7 AAM press release noted. “The regulation would only reduce greenhouse gases by 1/10 of 1% globally. Californians would see no health benefits from this regulation. … Indeed, plant life needs carbon dioxide to live.”

Cars More Dangerous

To meet the proposed new fuel economy requirements, automakers will have to make lighter, less-crashworthy automobiles, sacrificing the lives of hundreds of Californians.

“CARB’s proposal will reduce auto safety,” observed Marlo Lewis and Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in comments filed with the Air Resources Board. “Federal fuel economy mandates killed between 1,300 and 2,600 motorists in 1993, according to the National Research Council.”

Statistical consultants William E. Wecker Associates have determined CARB’s proposed regulation will cause several hundred more Californians to lose their lives behind the wheels of their cars every year. By 2020, the proposed regulation will cause 258 more Californians to die in auto accidents than would otherwise be the case. By 2030, the proposed regulation will cause 530 more Californians to die in auto accidents than would otherwise be the case.

Consumers’ Preferences Ignored

The proposed rule fails to acknowledge that automakers already manufacture vehicles that meet the proposed standards. Citizens are free to purchase such vehicles, such as Toyota’s Echo and Prius, if they decide better gas mileage is worth the higher price and safety risks.

Although the Prius and Echo put Toyota in a better position than other automakers to meet the proposed requirements, the company joined the lawsuit. “This regulation would limit consumer choice and increase vehicle prices,” explained Jim Press, executive vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales, as quoted in the December 8 Greenwire.

The case will be tried in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Fresno Division.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

More information on the legal challenge to California’s proposed CO2 regulations is available on the Web site of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers,

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s September 2004 comments on the California Air Resources Board proposal are available online at,04218.cfm.

The William E. Wecker Associates analysis of the CARB proposal are available online at