Opening an editorial on the need for tougher auto emissions standards, the LA Times notes that the last few months have not been kind to the legal position of those standing in the way, and with good cause:
The auto industry and the Bush administration are now 0 for 3 in their attempts to block tighter fuel economy standards in court. There's a reason for their rotten record: They don't have a case. And the longer they delay taking action, the higher the price Americans will pay.
And it's looking like that losing streak might well continue.
Yesterday afternoon in Fresno, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii heard arguments on competing motions for summary judgment in the industry's lawsuit against California's tailpipe emissions standards. In a September 2006 opinion tossing out two of the auto industry's claims but denying the state's motion for summary judgment on three others, Ishii appeared fairly open to the industry's case regarding conflict preemption-- that is, the assertion that California's standards would conflict with and undermine the federal fuel economy regime. His opinion also seemed to throw cold water on the state's argument that its standards, if granted an EPA waiver, would automatically become a part of federal law and thus eliminate any conflict.
But according to Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle, the state's arguments about the impact of this spring's landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision appear to have had a clear impact on the judge's thinking:
U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii suggested that the industry's argument had been undercut by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April upholding the federal government's authority to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.
Ishii noted that the court - rejecting arguments by the Bush administration as well as the auto industry - found no conflict between the Environmental Protection Agency's duty to regulate air pollutants and federal transportation officials' authority to regulate fuel economy.
"Why would I treat state regulation differently than the EPA adopting regulation of greenhouse gases that affect fuel economy?" Ishii asked.
If Ishii were to rule in California's favor now (a ruling is expected in the next couple of weeks), it would be a tactical disaster for the international automakers' trade association, AIAM. The industry first moved for judgment without trial in December 2006, perhaps emboldened by Ishii's apparent sympathy, and has continued pursuing that aggressive strategy even in the wake of Mass. v. EPA and the industry's September loss in an identical case in Vermont (this one after a full trial). Briefs filed by the industry over the course of the past year often invoke Ishii's prior ruling, but those appeals will be for naught if the judge is swayed by the Supreme Court's powerful precedent.