Judge Backs Vermont's Auto-Emissions Rules

A federal judge in Vermont rules that the state can adopt auto-emissions standards as strict as California's. The auto industry challenged the plan. More than a dozen other states are seeking stricter standards, too.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The state of Vermont won a victory today. And it's effort to crackdown on greenhouse gases spewing out of tailpipes.

As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, a federal judge ruled that Vermont can match tough new auto emissions requirements created by California.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: For decades, California has led the nation in cutting pollution from cars that causes smog. Five years ago, it passed a law to do the same for greenhouse gases. And more than a dozen states want to copy it, including Vermont. But all of them, including California, are waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency's approval before they can go ahead.

In the meantime, the auto industry's been filing lawsuits. The first one to get a court date was in Vermont. The industry says only the federal government has the right to regulate greenhouse gases from cars. They say cutting greenhouse gases is the same as setting a fuel-efficiency standard - a job the federal government reserved for itself. American automakers also argued the cost of meeting California's tough standards would force them out of the business of making passenger cars.

Mr. WILLIAM SORRELL (Attorney General, Vermont): And the court said, no, the technology is there. It will be difficult for the industry.

SHOGREN: But doable. That's Vermont's Attorney General William Sorrell. He's delighted by the victory, but he predicts that the battle is far from over.

Mr. SORRELL: My guess is that ultimately the Supreme Court will decide this matter.

SHOGREN: The alliance of automobile manufacturers, which represents the automakers in these cases, declined to be interviewed. But it released a statement saying it's considering an appeal. This ruling only applies in Vermont, but environmental lawyers say it sends a strong message. David Bookbinder was the Sierra Club's attorney in the case.

Mr. DAVID BOOKBINDER (Sierra Club Attorney): It means that when the auto manufacturers go up in front of Congress and say, as I've said for decades, we can't do it, we can't do it, we can't do it. Here is objective proof that they can.

SHOGREN: Before any of the states can go ahead, the EPA has to give California the okay. The agency says it will decide by the end of the year.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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