Skip to content


Judge in Vermont Upholds California Emissions Standards


Detroit car makers lost another battle in their fight against stronger emissions regulations last week, this time in Vermont.

The Burlington Free Press reports:

In a major victory for states' efforts to combat global warming, a U.S. District Court judge in Burlington ruled Wednesday that federal law does not bar Vermont from imposing tougher greenhouse gas emissions limits on cars and light trucks starting in 2009.

Judge William Sessions also rejected automakers' arguments that the standards -- written in California and adopted by Vermont and 11 other states -- are technologically impossible and financially impractical to meet.

The California rules would require automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 37 percent by 2016.

During a 16-day trial in April, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler testified they would simply stop selling most models of cars and pickup trucks in Vermont, California and the other states if the emissions limits take effect.

Photo: Teknorat/Flickr

  • momos

    This is really fantastic news. The car industry has been notoriously obsessed with meddling with California’s laws. While they weren’t looking, the northeastern states (Vermont in particular has been trailblazing) have moved aggressively on global warming in the last 2-3 years.

    Many people were involved in this effort.

    From the article:
    “Vermont and its allies were jubilant Wednesday. ‘This is a huge win. If you are concerned about the environment in general and global warming specifically, it is a great day,’ said Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office defended the case with the help of New York state and a number of environmental groups.”

    There is a potentially fatal loophole, however. The California limits must still be approved by the Bush EPA. Car lobbyists in DC are going to have a field day.

  • ddartley

    I have NEVER understood why EPA has oversight of California standards. Never. I’m not a lawyer, but what the heck is it? Some interstate commerce principle?

    I mean, if CA says “all cars in CA must do this,” what LEGAL principle in US law says that the Federal gov can oversee and even stop that law’s enforcement?

    All I can come up with is that it would hurt car companies, which to my mind is NOT a matter of LAW, but merely the Federal gov intervening to protect an industry. THAT is what seems legally dubious–not the choice by a particular state to legislate mileage standards. It seems to me that if the Federal gov wanted to do LEGALLY what they’re already doing with EPA oversight of CA law, they’d have to pass a FEDERAL law that says no state can legislate mileage standards.

    Can anyone explain what the legal basis is for EPA oversight of CA mileage standards is??

  • Dave H.


    Those are very good questions. Here is the judge’s opinion. I don’t really have time to read it right now but they are usually pretty accessible (just skip over all the citations to other cases; generally this shouldn’t be essential). Taking a quick look at the opinion (and hopefully a lawyer will confirm) the plaintiffs (the automakers) were suing on constitutional grounds. The argument would then go something like this:

    1) The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution says that Federal law is the supreme law of the land and that it always trumps state law when the two are in conflict.

    2) The federal government is authorized by the constitution to do pass law X or authorize regulation X (often these regulations are supposedly authorized by the interstate commerce clause of the constitution).

    3) Federal law X (or regulation x) conflicts with state law Y.

    4) Because the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution that says Federal law trumps state law when in conflict (and constitutionally authorized), state law Y must be struck down.

  • Dave H.
  • gelston

    Does a state have the right to classify SUV’s as light trucks and regulate them accordingly? How about commercial vs. non-commercial vehicles? How about NYC vs. NYS?

  • Dave H.

    Gelston – I can’t answer your questions, but they seem to be very similar to what the case that was just decided has ruled on. (Classifications for the purposes regulating emissions are really just a subset of larger area of emissions regulations, which the court has apparently decided that, as applied by the states of Vermont and California, is okay). I doubt, however, that NYC could get into this business – but you’d have to look at the New York State Constitution and case law to be sure.

    For a perhaps more persipicuous explanation of pre-emption (what I tried to explain above), take a look at Wikipedia:

  • Carfree Chicago

    They might stop selling over-sized gas-guzzling cars, SUVs and trucks? Oh no!