California Sues Automakers Over Emissions

By Dave Porter

Sacramento, CA - The California State Attorney General has filed a lawsuit charging six major automakers in the US and Japan with wrecking the environment and causing health problems that have cost the state of California millions, claiming emissions from their vehicles have harmed Californians' health and damaged the environment.

Named in the State of California lawsuit were General Motors, Ford and Toyota, three of the largest automakers whose vehicles are sold in California.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer told reporters that the lawsuit is part of a strategy to address global warming. "The goal of this one is to hold these automobile manufacturers accountable for the monies taxpayers are spending to address these harms."

Lockyer's comment suggests that automakers are not the only companies the State of California is eyeing for damages through the courts over pollution, which could extend to oil companies as well as manufacturers, if Lockyer's office finds evidence of environmental and health damages to Californians and can prove negligence.

The lawsuit filed today stems from legislation passed last month by California lawmakers in a landmark environmental Bill designed to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from industries. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the measure into law by the end of the month. The Bill carries the backing of both Democrats and Republicans and with gubernatorial elections looming, Schwarzenegger is expected to politicize the signing of the Bill into law.

Governor Schwarzenegger has been a proponent of combating global warming and has pushed lawmakers there for an environmental energy bill to develop solar power alternative energy in California to reduce the dependence of the state on fossil fuels.

Last week, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed seven bills that expand ocean protection and improve and protect California's water quality, that environmental legislation may be the basis for Lockyer to file more environmental lawsuits.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Lockyer's suit against the "big six" automakers alleges that under federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing "millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide," a greenhouse gas that traps atmospheric heat and causes global warming. Lockyer says that under the law, a "public nuisance" is an unreasonable interference with a public right, or an action that interferes with or causes harm to life, health or property. The complaint asks the court to hold the defendants liable for damages, including future harm, caused by their ongoing, substantial contribution to the public nuisance of global warming.

"Global warming is causing significant harm to California's environment, economy, agriculture and public health. The impacts are already costing millions of dollars and the price tag is increasing," said Lockyer. "Vehicle emissions are the single most rapidly growing source of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming, yet the federal government and automakers have refused to act. It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis."

Today's filing comes as Lockyer fights the auto industry's attempt to invalidate California's landmark global warming regulations curbing tailpipe emissions. In their federal-court lawsuit, the automakers claim the regulations, adopted in 2005 through legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Fran Pavley, are pre-empted by federal law. Lockyer is defending the rules against the industry's legal challenge.

Lockyer noted the Bush Administration's inaction on global warming has forced California and other states to take action on their own. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a lawsuit filed by Lockyer, 11 other Attorneys General, two cities and major environmental groups challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, Lockyer, along with nine other state Attorneys General, the District of Columbia and the City of New York, filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the Bush Administration's new fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks. That complaint alleges the rules fail to address the effects on the environment and global warming.

California is particularly vulnerable to global warming impacts. According to a report recently submitted by the Climate Action Team to Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature, the consequences of climate change in California will be "severe."

"We are seeing the harmful impacts of global warming today, and if we continue with 'business as usual,' we can expect to see more and larger impacts in the future," said Lockyer. "As a coastal state, an agricultural state, and a state that relies on its Sierra snow pack, California has an enormous stake in acting now to combat global warming."