Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld rules requiring local governments and government contractors to purchase low-emission or alternative fuel cars. The rules at issue in the case were designed to reduce cancer-causing pollution and deadly particulates emitted from cars, buses, and trucks in Southern California, but other states and municipalities across the country have been using similar rules to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of municipal fleets. Industry groups attacked the rules as (what else?) preempted by the Clean Air Act.
This is a hard-won victory for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which has the impossible task of cleaning up the air in the Los Angeles Basin, and has been defending these rules for seven years. In 2004, the Supreme Court addressed the application of the rules to private fleet owners, but left open the question of whether they were valid for public fleets. The Ninth Circuit answered that question with a resounding yes.
In our amicus brief on behalf of local governnments, officials, and clean air agencies, we pointed out just how widespread fleet purchase rules are as a pollution control and global warming tool. The Department of Energy has a 107-page list of state mechanisms that promote or require clean vehicles. The Center for a New American Dream has this chart of municipalities' hybrid fleet sizes. We're glad to see that preemption doctrine isn't being used to stop state and local environmental innovation on global warming. We hope this bodes well for the other big preemption cases pending in federal court.