Whose green is greener? The US auto industry's environmental showdown

It might seem to be all peace, love and hybrids at this year’s LA Auto Show, but while the heads of America’s biggest car companies have been busy spruiking green, elsewhere in California their lawyers have been working to overturn the state’s strict tailpipe emissions standards.

Lawyers representing the US’s largest automakers – including Ford, General Motors and Toyota – are challenging the 2002 state law that says manufacturers must produce cars and light trucks that pump out 30 per cent less greenhouse gases by 2016.

California can set its own vehicle pollution standards because it started regulating emissions before America’s Environmental Protection Agency was even created, says Garance Burke in BusinessWeek.

But now, with more than a dozen other states vowing to follow suit, the US auto industry is arguing the law could wreck the market and trigger widespread industry job losses.
It has also asked the courts to scrap the legislation on grounds it requires manufacturers to adhere to too many different fuel efficiency standards.

Lawyers for both sides presented arguments Monday before US District Judge Anthony W Ishii, who is expected to issue a decision as soon as next week.

"It is undisputed that this regulation will lead to job losses. The only question is the magnitude," said Andrew Clubok, a Washington-based attorney for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "This turns the whole objective of the energy conservation process on its head."

But before California can enforce its tailpipe rules for cars sold in the state, it needs the EPA to make it exempt from national greenhouse gas pollution standards set under the federal Clean Air Act, says Burke.

Earlier this month, California and 14 other states sued the agency, saying the waiver was crucial to meeting the provisions of a separate state global warming law that seeks to reduce those California’s emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.

"California is the leading state in the country dealing with the most fundamental problem facing the world and that is irreversible disruptive climate change," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told The Associated Press. "The auto companies are waging an all-out assault on the state of California and its greenhouse gas tailpipe restrictions, so it's crucial that we win."

Meanwhile, disagreements over the best environmental course spilled over to the auto show, says Jerry Garrett in The New York Times, with automakers engaging in a game of "my green is greener than your green.”

A highlight, says Garrett, came on Wednesday when a version of GM’s proposed Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid – slated for 2010 – was driven onto the stage, powered for the occasion by a nonhybrid motor.

The battery packs that GM envisions for the Volt "are now in bench-testing,” said company vice chairman Robert A Lutz, while "street-drivable prototypes” were expected by 2008.

The more than slightly grumpy Lutz was particularly keen to point this out, says Garrett, after a competitor allegedly suggested the Volt would never be built.

"We are headed to a showdown at the OK Corral,” he told reporters after GM’s green-themed presentation. "One of our Asian competitors -- and I won’t say who -- …said the Volt is a scam. It’s a PR stunt. They said our lithium-ion batteries won’t work, and we’ll never bring the car to market.”

"Next year,” continued Lutz, "about the time the Easter Bunny brings us our eggs, we will find out who is right, and who is scamming whom.”

Hold on to your hats.

Automakers challenge emission standards, Garance Burke, BusinessWeek

California dreaming, tinted green, Gerry Garrett, New York Times

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