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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Backs Rhode Island in Auto Emissions Case

(CN) - A federal judge in Rhode Island rejected automakers' attempt to stop Rhode Island from adopting California's more stringent greenhouse gas emission standards.

Car dealerships and manufacturers sought a declaration against the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management's adoption of regulations that a dozen other states also seek to embrace.

In the Rhode Island case - as with two similar suits brought in California and Vermont district courts - auto interests argued that states' assumption of more stringent emission regulations was pre-empted by federal law.

A Supreme Court decision from April 2007 placed regulation of carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, while the Energy Independence and Security Act, passed last December, mandates increased vehicular fuel economy starting in 2011.

Under the Clean Air Act, a federal waiver would allow California to issue its own emissions regulations, which other states are then allowed to take on as their own. Last year the Bush administration denied California's federal waiver request, sought since 2005.

Federal court decisions in Vermont and California, issued last December, denied automakers' energy act claims on the basis that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not directly related to fuel economy standards. Judges in both cases also pointed out that the Clean Air Act prohibited implementation, not mere adoption, of California emissions standards before issuance of the federal waiver.

The Rhode Island decision, issued Nov. 24, hinged on the doctrine of issue preclusion.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, along with intervening environmental groups, argued that because other courts at the same level had already dismissed nearly identical cases, automakers' claims should be barred.

U.S. District Judge Ernesto Torres agreed, saying that "the government litigates on behalf of the public" while "private parties litigate in order to pursue their own interests which, sometimes, may be contrary to the interests of the general public."

Torres wrote that allowing automakers "another bite of the apple" by allowing repeat litigation goes against public interest.

However, the court allowed Rhode Island dealerships to pursue their claims, because they were not adequately represented by auto manufacturers and associations in previous cases.

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