US states win right to set carbon target

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The Independent Online

The US state of Vermont has won a landmark victory in the battle against global warming being waged at local level across America in defiance of the Bush Administration.

A federal judge has ruled against an alliance of US and European car companies seeking to kill off Vermont's tough new greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. The regulations are modelled on California's groundbreaking pollution standards for cars which were adopted in the teeth of opposition from President George Bush.

Earlier this year the US Supreme Court recognised for the first time the phenomenon of global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects upon the environment. Now, the courts have said that, as a result, individual states have the authority "to monitor and regulate emissions", in effect to adopt tougher rules than those at than federal level on carbon dioxide pollution from cars.

Irate car manufacturers hope to have the ruling overturned in a higher court. They had sued Vermont saying it was usurping federal authority by passing its own laws to limit the sale of polluting vehicles.

California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the Vermont ruling an "important victory in the fight against global warming." The car industry should "stop wasting millions on legal fees and start paying their engineers to build these cars to be cleaner", said David Bookbinder, of the Sierra Club environmental organisation.

The ruling will quicken the pace of change to further reduce emissions. California has been leading the way in forcing polluting industries to reduce their emissions, despite the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to do so.

Congress has deemed that California alone – traditionally to the fore in fighting pollution – can draw up rules on pollution that are tougher than federal standards. Other states have the right to follow the tighter California standards, once approved.

Car companies, including Daimler-Chrysler complained bitterly that the cost of meeting these goals meant that few if any of US-made cars and trucks would be sold in Vermont by 2016. But Judge William Sessions rejected a variety of challenges from auto manufacturers, including their contention that the states were.

"It is improbable that an industry that prides itself on its modernity, flexibility and innovativeness will be unable to meet the requirements of the regulation, especially with the range of technological possibilities and alternatives currently before it," he wrote.

He was also dubious of claims that as many as 65,000 jobs would be lost across the country if California's pollution standards were taken up by other states.

In 2002, California became the first US state to force car companies to start reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. It has subsequently set some of the strictest standards in the world. Vermont adopted the same standards, as did other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which brought the lawsuit in Vermont, is planning an appeal.

"The court's opinion is a sweeping rejection of the auto industry's claim that California and other states" lack authority to regulate heat-trapping gases, Richard J Lazarus, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC told The New York Times.

The world's leader... for pollution

Among the world's top economies, the US still stands out as the number one polluter. With just 5 per cent of the world's population, the US is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases and responsible for almost a quarter of global emissions of carbon dioxide. Motor vehicle emissions are one of the leading causes of air pollution, with China, the US, Russia, Mexico and Japan the world leaders in emissions. However, squeaky clean Canada is the number two country, ranked per capita. The worst pollution sources include chemical plants, coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, nuclear waste disposal, incinerators, large livestock farms, plastic and metal production and other heavy industry.