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Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20232
Nos. Nos. 2:05-cv-302, -304, (D. Vt., 09/12/2007)

A district court ruled that states have the authority to adopt California's more stringent tailpipe laws that control greenhouse gases (GHGs) from cars. Clean Air Act (CAA) §209(a) preempts states from adopting their own motor vehicle emission control standards. However, CAA §209(b) requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to waive preemption for a California-adopted standard that meets certain conditions. Other states may adopt a California standard for which waiver has been granted. At the same time, §502 of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) directs the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for new passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. In 2005, Vermont adopted California's GHG emissions standards for new automobiles. Because EPCA §509 preempts any state laws or regulations related to fuel economy standards, and because there is an arguable relationship between decreasing carbon dioxide emissions from the tailpipe of a motor vehicle and increasing its fuel economy, a number of automobile manufacturers, dealers, and associations challenged Vermont's regulations, arguing that they were preempted by the EPCA. The court rejected their claims. Given the legislative history of the CAA and EPCA, Congress intended California emissions standards for which EPA granted a waiver pursuant to CAA §209(b) to constitute "other motor vehicle standards of the Government" that the DOT must consider when establishing CAFE standards under EPCA §502. The court applied principles of express, field, and conflict preemption to the regulations, finding in each case that the automobile industry failed to prove the regulations were preempted. Congress did not intend that regulations adopted by California for which EPA grants a waiver under CAA §209(b) be preempted. In addition, the regulations at issue set GHG emissions standards and are sufficiently unrelated to fuel economy standards not to be expressly preempted. Further, Congress did not intend EPCA's CAFE standards to occupy the field of fuel economy exclusively. The court also concluded that the auto industry failed to demonstrate that Vermont's GHG regulations represent an insufferable intrusion upon the field of foreign affairs, or that they conflict with national foreign policy.

[A prior decision in this litigation can be found at 36 ELR 20243.]