As we noted in an earlier post, the Vermont clean cars law now being litigated is based on a 2002 California statute. The California emissions standards are really the linchpin for the clean cars laws in other states, and Mass v. EPA has a direct impact on whether these standards succeed or fail.
Not surprisingly, the automobile industry is challenging the California law, saying that it's preempted by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) and by the president's prerogative to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit. (Industry raised other challenges, but they've been dismissed.) In January, California district court judge Anthony Ishii stayed the proceedings pending the outcome of Mass v. EPA, saying that the Court's ruling would have a "clarifying effect" on the preemption claims. And it has.
Ishii wrote that "The arguments presented by the parties in Massachusetts v. EPA are not identical to the arguments in the instant case.... Nevertheless, the elements of the arguments regarding EPCA that are set forth in Massachusetts v. EPA exactly mirror the structure and elements of the arguments presented by plaintiffs in this case. Fundamentally, that argument is that regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is tantamount to the regulation of fuel efficiency, which is an area exclusively delegated by Congress to DOT through EPCA.
If the Supreme Court reaches the merits of the petitioners' case in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court will necessarily be required to address the issue of whether the regulation of carbon dioxide is, in fact, tantamount to the regulation of fuel efficiency [and this would]... greatly simplify the issues now before the Court in this case."
Here's what the Court wrote in Mass. v EPA (slip op p. 29): "That DOT sets mileage standards in no way licenses EPA to shirk its environmental responsibilities. EPA has been charged with protecting the public's 'health' and 'welfare' ... a statutory obligation wholly independent of DOT's mandate to promote energy efficiency.... The two obligations may overlap, but there is no reason to think the two agencies cannot both administer their obligations and yet avoid inconsistency." California is seeking to do what EPA is supposed to be doing (and California has the ability to do this under the Clean Air Act), and EPA's job doesn't infringe on DOT's, so why should California's effort?
The industry's foreign policy preemption argument doesn't fare much better. In a nutshell, industry argues that state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions takes away a bargaining chip that the President might use to entice other nations to cut their own global warming pollution. But the Court separated environmental and foreign policy issues in Mass v. EPA, saying that "[W]hile the President has broad authority in foreign affairs, that authority does not extend to the refusal to execute domestic laws." The parallel between EPA and California isn't exact, but if EPA's regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions don't infringe on presidential foreign policy prerogatives, it's hard to argue that a state law that regulates the same thing from the same source does unconstitutionally limit the president.